Musically, lyrically and emotional intricate work
Vicky Greer
10:58 11th February 2021

The four years since The Pretty Reckless’ last release, 2016's Who You Selling For, have been some of the hardest years of the band's lives. Just under a year after the death of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, with whom the band had toured, they learned that their producer and close friend Kato Khandwala was killed in a motorcycle accident. After such a dark period, Death by Rock and Roll represents, more than anything else, a light at the end of the tunnel. After the year we’ve all had, an album that refuses to shy away from life’s tragedies is more important than ever.

There is no one song from the album that completely represents the record – musically, lyrically or emotionally. The opening title track is a celebration of life despite its slightly morbid title – Taylor Momsen screaming “I wanna go out my way” is the cry of someone trying to take control of their life in a world that rarely offers such freedom. The intersection of 90s grunge in the guitars and classic rock melodies make this song an unbeatable album opener.

Plenty of intersections like this one are explored throughout the record, not settling on one genre to explore but showing expertise in all of them. 'And So It Went', complete with an iconic Tom Morello solo, is pure punk, while on the other side of the spectrum 'Rock and Roll Heaven' is straight country rock. Elsewhere, 'Got So High' and 'Standing at the Wall' are the acoustic chapters of the story. It’s a testament to the adaptability and know-how of all of the musicians on the album.

Lyrically, this is some of Taylor Momsen’s best work. She’s developed as a songwriter in many ways since Light Me Up, and Death By Rock and Roll has allowed her to process her emotions in an unfiltered and unwavering way. Recent single '25' boasts mature lyrics that most artists couldn’t stand up against, and her expression of grief throughout the record is as startling as it is moving. The lyrics “through my teens I screamed I may not live much past 21, 2, 3, 4, 5” show an honesty that is difficult to process in one of the album’s darkest moments.

The two most important songs are 'Rock and Roll Heaven' and 'Harley Darling', which end the album on a hopeful note. The structure of Death by Rock and Roll is well planned, with this double finale acting as the optimistic end of the album. The message is that things will get better, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 'Rock and Roll Heaven opens' with an ode to the music that saved Momsen’s life, from The Beatles to Soundgarden. Here, the band have crafted a song that gives you hope for the future while making you cry for the past. On top of such deep emotional significance, Momsen’s voice is unrivalled in the outstanding choruses. 'Harley Darling' maintains the emotional and musical themes previously established and tells of a deeply personal, yet universally-relatable acceptance of loss.

The Pretty Reckless have gone above and beyond on Death by Rock and Roll to create an album that can really connect with the listener. Some tracks are more memorable than others, but with each listen you pick up on new details. It’s a prime example of the healing power of rock and roll.

Death by Rock and Roll arrives 12 February via Century Media.

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Photo: Press