The Pretty Reckless – ‘Who You Selling For’ [Review]
UPDATE: TMMP has been reborn! This video has the full story:
Although it’s 2016, not 1016, women in music remain a complicated subject. For some, anyway. Things are changing – slowly – and here, I’m going to talk about the third album from a band doing more than most to keep those changes coming.
The Pretty Reckless are currently sitting on their fourth rock-radio-topping single in Take Me Down, the first cut from Who You Selling For to see the light of day. Fronted as they are by the undeniably badass Taylor Momsen, that makes The Pretty Reckless notable as the first female-fronted rock act to embark on such a streak since The Pretenders.
Achieving genuine gender equality is impossible unless we treat all people equally as people rather than assigning one set of standards for men and another for women. So as quickly as possible, I’m going to get to the bit where I review Who You Selling For as “an album by a highly successful rock band” rather than “an album by a highly successful female-fronted rock band”. But first, a quick side rant inspired by (what else?) a common theme adopted by YouTube commenters over the years The Pretty Reckless have been active.
Listen to The Pretty Reckless’s previous work for more than a fraction of a second, and you’ll pick up on a near-constant sexual undercurrent. It’s not just there because Taylor Momsen happens to be female – it’s there because historically, she’s actively played up to her status as a rock and roll sex symbol. Cue many derisive comments about The Pretty Reckless being “all marketing,” suckering gullible drooling men into parting with portions of their hard-earned paychecks.
To be fair, in The Pretty Reckless’s early days, those critics had a point – not because of anything gender-related, but simply because six years ago, The Pretty Reckless just weren’t that good. Make Me Wanna Die was a solid rock song, but 2014’s Going To Hell was a massive step up in every respect. Listening back to it now, Going To Hell stands the test of time – and anyone huffing and puffing at the forthright sexuality on display there should go back and listen to any Led Zeppelin album, where you’ll find Robert Plant basically singing not from his throat or chest but from his Golden Godly erection, calling forth one of the most potent and rightfully respected voices in the history of rock ‘n’ roll in the process.
Today, the list of facts, figures, and achievements speak for themselves. The Pretty Reckless now exist on another level. It’s time to afford them the respect they not only deserve, but have earned through years of bloody-minded hard work.
So that’s the gender stuff out of the way. Let’s move on. What about Who You Selling For?
What about the music?
It won’t surprise you to hear that Who You Selling For is first and foremost a Rock Album, full of Rock Songs. That’s pretty obvious. But rock is a gigantic genre in its own right – and The Pretty Reckless have so far explored only a small portion of it.
On Who You Selling For, things change completely – while still remaining firmly rooted in rock. This is the album on which The Pretty Reckless wear their influences on their sleeves. All told, Who You Selling For proves that these guys can no longer be considered a marketing-driven gimmick band who got famous (to quote one wannabe YouTube comedian) “because boobs”.
Let’s run through it all. The Walls Are Closing In (Hangman) kicks things off with a piano-driven intro, seriously raw guitar, deep-grooving drums, and an immense, spiralling breakdown. This opener immediately got my attention – as does all music that focusses primarily on primal rhythmic power. Oh My God turns up the intensity, fuelled by the spirit of Lemmy Kilmister as Motörhead’s influence looms large before one grungy chorus hook and even shades of Metallica’s bluesy period at one point.
Oh My God’s lyrics sum up Who You Selling For’s core theme: the unrelenting pressure to perform at a world-class level while the world’s bastards do their best to grind you down. Make no mistake – The Pretty Reckless have something to prove on Who You Selling For. So…how do they do?
Take Me Down follows Oh My God’s self-effacing lyrics with some super-confident strutting, introducing a taste of The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil without collapsing into Copycat Land. Prisoner is a cool, but somewhat unremarkable blues stomper. Wild City swings to the other extreme, a personal highlight made up of wah-ridden cop show funk, twisted urban rock, and a shreddy wah solo, striking a perfect balance between fun music and darker lyrical themes. Back To The River keeps The Pretty Reckless going strong, a roots rock showcase with more shades of The Stones; Who You Selling For sounds like The Smashing Pumpkins, tense and grittily epic; and Bedroom Window sees Taylor Momsen and Ben Phillips tackle a live and intimate acoustic-and-vocal track with a beautiful Beatles vibe.
By this point, everything The Pretty Reckless have set out to prove is all but proven.
Still to come: Living In The Storm, an unfortunate on-record weak spot with massive live potential drained here by a hollow-feeling mix; a pair of songs practically custom-made for Tarantino soundtracks in Already Dead and The Devil’s Back and…hold on. Let’s rewind quickly to that last one, because it deserves a special mention.
The Devil’s Back starts out in the form of a pulsing alt-rock track with, again, Tarantino soundtrack potential. That’s normally enough to win me over on its own. But cue one tangential turn into Pink Floyd territory with an epic-length solo that pulls The Devil’s Back past the seven-minute mark and…yes. Just yes. Ben Phillips absolutely nails it there. Another easy highlight.
The Pretty Reckless go prog. I honestly didn’t see that coming – but now that I’ve heard it, I’m stunned. It’s fucking great.
Where to go from there? Well, this is rock ‘n’ roll, and rebelling against all expectations is what it’s all about. So to close things off, we have Mad Love, a dirty funk/disco excursion that will get your hips grinding uncontrollably wherever you are.
Best not to listen to that one while queueing for a job interview, then.
With Mad Love over, Who You Selling For gives way to silence. At this point, there’s only one thing left to say.
This is The Pretty Reckless’s best album.
TMMP RATING: 92% (Essential Listening!)
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