Following the death of grunge legend Chris Cornell and The Pretty Reckless’ producer Kato Khandwala, lead singer Taylor Momsen was sent into a spiral of depression, according to an interview she did with Kerrang! magazine.
Cornell, an inspiration for Momsen, committed suicide in 2017 while The Pretty Reckless was touring with Soundgarden, one of Cornell’s bands. Less than a year later, Khandwala passed away in a motorcycle accident.
Although these incidents temporarily consumed Momsen’s mind and ability to produce music, they have now become the driving force for The Pretty Reckless’ new album “Death By Rock And Roll,” released Feb. 12.
The band’s fourth album is carefully laid out and introspective from beginning to end. The first part of the 12-track album details the sadness Momsen and the band experienced after Cornell and Khandwala’s deaths. However, the album ends on a more hopeful note as the band reflects on the importance of music in their lives, as well as the impact Cornell and Khandwala had on them.
The title song features a classic motorcycle rock sound with an ascending chorus that effectively kicks off the strong musicality present throughout the rest of the album. It’s followed by “Only Love Can Save Me Now,” featuring Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and guitarist Kim Thayil. Without Momsen’s vocals, the song sounds like it could have been written by Soundgarden itself.
“And So It Went,” featuring Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello, shows off Momsen’s ability to command with her voice atop a choir of children while Morello plays an expectedly impressive solo. The lyrics describe a world full of disorder that children are tired of living in, forcing them to rise up against it.
Easily one of the most impressive songs of the album, “25” opens with guitarist Ben Phillips playing a lick reminiscent of the one in Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” but with darker undertones. From beginning to end, Momsen carries the ballad that chronicles her life and struggles, perhaps most evident in the lyrics: “And all through my teens, I screamed I may not live much past / Twenty-one, two, three, four.”
The acoustic songs “Got So High” and “Standing at the Wall” allow the listener to take a breath while the band showcases their musical flexibility and ability to captivate even without fast riffs and electric instruments.
Leaning toward Southern rock, “Rock and Roll Heaven” is a reflection on the impact of rock music and musicians on the band. Momsen references the impact of these musicians, singing, “Freedom found me when I first heard the Beatles sing” and “Jimi, Janis and Morrison, a garden full of sound.” A beautiful and impressive look at the impact of music on Momsen and the band, it arguably should have been the title of the album. The album closes with “Harley Darling,” another dedication to Khandwala.
“Death By Rock and Roll” proves The Pretty Reckless’ ability to perfect a variety of sounds and create a reflective album that’s both vulnerable and powerful. Hopefully, with time, the band will be able to tailor the genres they love into their own unique sound that impacts the way their idols’ music did.