After months of teasing fans on social media with the prospect of a new album, The Pretty Reckless release Who You Selling For, a brash and unapologetic, yet thoughtful and refined rock record that sees them confidently take their place among the most important bands in modern rock music.
It’s unsurprising that the band’s first record Light Me Up (2010), and to some degree 2012’s Going To Hell were overshadowed by frontwoman Taylor Momsen’s somewhat controversial image, and previous incarnation as a child actor; a sad truth considering the quality of these records, penned when Momsen was just a young teenager. Luckily, Who You Selling For feels like it could break this cycle and see The Pretty Reckless receive the acclaim they deserve. Now 23, Momsen’s songwriting has certainly evolved; where the previous records feature clunky and deliberately provocative religious and sexual metaphors, this album, while not abandoning those themes, seems to approach them in a more mature and personal way – they flow like undercurrents rather than having been thrown in for the purpose of shock factor.
Possibly the most exciting aspect of the album is its lack of conformity to any one genre. Opening track The Walls Are Closing In / Hangman sets the tone for the rest of the album in showing the diversity of influences that The Pretty Reckless have drawn from across the spectrum of rock music. The first 50 seconds of the song is comprised of a Lennon-inspired piano ballad which slips smoothly into a deliciously dark riff as Hangman begins. Theoretically this, and the later contrasting of blues, grunge, and acoustic tracks should not work, but the band manages to maintain a unified and authentic sound throughout.
A personal favourite is most the recent single Oh My God, with blunt lyrics and no sign of poetic embellishments, it sounds as though it could’ve been taken straight from Nirvana’s Bleach. It is a refreshingly personal and candid song, exploring the often negative effects of the music industry on artists. In ways it certainly feels more real than anything on The Pretty Reckless’ previous albums, far less like we are hearing from a persona rather than Momsen herself. But, if Oh My God is a complaint, then next track Take Me Down is a celebration in the form of a classic rock anthem; the band have often spoken of how isolating the touring process can be, and how reconvening to write new material is, in Momsen’s words, “the healing factor”, a thought which comes through a lot in this song.
Bringing a really strong, bluesy feel to the album, Prisoner is a definite standout, followed by Wild City which calls to mind Led Zeppelin, with a fantastic guitar solo and backing vocals that add a lot to Momsen’s voice. Momsen’s lyricism is then brought to the forefront in the stripped back folky track Bedroom Window, serving as a reminder that she is not only an extremely talented rock vocalist (worth of being considered alongside the likes of Joplin, Plant and Nicks) but also a thoughtful and skilled writer. The unsung hero of the album however is Ben Phillips (lead guitar, co-lyricist) who shines particularly brightly on The Devil’s Back with a 4 minute guitar solo to rival Dave Gilmour.
Title track Who You Selling For encapsulates the main themes of the album, exploring feelings of being lost within this particular industry, and pays homage to the icons Momsen has certainly looked to for inspiration and comfort in shaping her own musical direction, “John was a walrus but he ain’t no dancer like Paul… And when Roger showed me I was building a wall”.
In laying bare these feelings of isolation, confusion and uncertainty as to where their music would go, The Pretty Reckless have found their most mature sound to date, and made one of the most important contributions to rock music in recent years.