The Pretty Reckless
Who You Selling For?
Razor & Tie
12/29/2016 - Review by: Eric Compton
The most mature album to date from these American hard rockers
It's hard to make a better record than 'Who You Selling For', the third release from New York rockers The Pretty Reckless. One could use a variety of proverbs to summarize that this is the more grown up version of the band, void of pretentious tendencies to want to rock. Instead this album stands as a testament that The Pretty Reckless are exactly what they wanted to be; an innovative rock and roll band that defies genres and classes. This is an extremely memorable set of songs that are stylish and unique, two traits that become blurry and often discarded by career effort number three.
Singer Taylor Momsen and guitarist Ben Phillips wrote all of the songs together and the band utilized Kato Khandwala once again to produce. Where 'Going To Hell' (2013) had plenty of 80's lyrical imagery, this record is sort of a cross-section of styles and substance. It's very natural sounding with many songs much different than it's predecessors. That presentation and delivery creates diversity that spreads throughout the album's twelve tracks.
The stirring opener 'The Walls Are Closing In/Hangman' is the perfect example of what to expect. The song begins with piano and Momsen's soothing vocals that tell "mama that she can't see at all." From the minute of piano the track goes electric strings as Momsen starts a Latin chant before the heavy distortion and grooves hit like prime 90's Seattle sounds. This Alice in Chains vibe permeates the song with chorus parts that have a very commanding authority, much like "Heaven Knows". Just like that song's demand from Momsen to defy authority and "don't do a Goddamn thing they say", here Momsen tells us to "stand straight, brace your neck, be stronger" when the hangman comes. It's over six-minutes of defying convention and it's absolutely brilliant.
Second song and second album single "Oh My God" is one of two really raw and intense hard rock numbers. The busy hands on the kit combined with Phillips driving riffs matches Momsen's manic delivery style. That same intensity makes "Living in the Storm" another perfect hard rock cut, the main riff a groovy number that shakes and bakes until a chorus that has Momsen doing her higher raspy vocal chords to welcome the storm. These two cuts are typically what we would expect from the band after 'Going to Hell'.
"Take Me Down", the record's first single, is an ode to the film "Crossroads", or more importantly the fabled story of blues guitarist Robert Johnson. The song follows the formula of rock star selling his soul to the Devil. This one has a funky little beat to it that reminds me of "Sympathy for the Devil" from the Rolling Stones. Like much of the album Momsen is very maternal here, once again taking the role of a character talking to mama of life's woes. "Don't care what happens when I die, as long as I'm alive, all I want to do is rock-rock-rock." Nailed it.
"Prisoner" and "Wild City" (this one again with the maternal vibe) are both urban and soulful, saturated in a 70's style. Lyrically "Prisoner" is sexually charged as Momsen tells the listener "you can have my body but you can't have me". "Wild City" has funky strings and some background city noise. These elements are combined with a "church choir" of female voices. Lyrically it's about a "motherless child in the wild, wild city" and it's imagery is bleak but the music is fairly upbeat, climaxing in a ripping Phillips lead at the three-minute mark.
"Back to the River" has a Southern charm about it and features guitar legend Warren Haynes. The song is like Kid Rock meets 90's Sheryl Crow and works extremely well as a mid-point for the record. "Who You Selling For", "Bedroom Window", "Already Dead" and "The Devil's Back" (this one over seven-minutes) are fairly slower numbers that don't soften the blow too much. Lyrically they all have punch and the title-track is particularly thought-provoking. Depending on your version there is a bonus track called "Mad Love" (featured on most streaming versions) that is more of an R&B cut. It's still got 70's soulful swagger to it and Momsen uses distorted vocals through most of it.
Overall it's a stunning effort and almost gets the perfect score. The only .50 subtraction probably just comes from the length of "The Devil's Back", one of the weaker cuts. I had the pleasure of seeing the band live on the "Going to Hell" support tour and also saw the band perform live to support this album. They just keep getting better and better and the charts are starting to show people are interested. The Pretty Reckless could easily be the best rock and roll band in America right now. 'Who You Selling For' asks the question--Are You Buying It?
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