The Pretty Reckless - Going to Hell Review
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 03.18.2014
Taylor Momsen's hard rock outfit The Pretty Reckless are back with their second LP, Going to Hell! But is the band able to deliver or are they damned to the sophomore curse? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review!
1. "Follow Me Down" (4:40)
2. "Going to Hell" (4:36)
3. "Heaven Knows" (3:44)
4. "House on a Hill" (4:39)
5. "Sweet Things" (5:04)
6. "Dear Sister" (0:56)
7. "Absolution" (4:34)
8. "Blame Me" (4:27)
9. "Burn" (1:48)
10. "Why’d You Bring a Shotgun to the Party" (3:20)
11. "Fucked Up World" (4:16)
12. "Waiting for a Friend" (3:12)
Love her or hate her, you have to give Taylor Momsen credit for one thing: she stands by her career choices. The twenty-year old rose to fame as an actress, mostly known for her portrayal of Jenny Humphrey on the CW's Gossip Girl, but raised several eyebrows when she walked away from the series at its height in order to pursue a career as a hard rock singer. Many believed that she would be back to acting in short order after the headlines faded but she stood resolute and her band, the Pretty Reckless, released their surprisingly good debut LP Light Me Up in 2010. Since then it's been full speed ahead the band and with Momsen providing a controversial frontwoman--complete with shock rock antics and a barely legal sexed-up image--the band toured nonstop in support of the album. It's been two years since that tour ended and in the interim they've been hard at work on their second album. That album, Going to Hell, releases today in the hopes of building on the momentum that Light Me Up began.
With their second LP, The Pretty Reckless has decided that more is most definitively not less. Without straying from the musical format of the first album, the band has decided to up the excess and, more significantly, the production values. Light Me Up had a grungier, more DIY style to it and it seems that the money they spent was put into the studio and producers. This is evident right from the get go, with opening track "Follow Me Down" sounding far more polished than anything on their first album. Starting with the sounds of an ambulance driving by amidst the sounds of a woman in either pain or ecstasy, the track quickly launches into a hard-driving number full of carnal imagery amidst a catchy hook. It's as subtle as a hand grenade, or more appropriately a skin flick, and that's exactly what the goal seems to be with lyrics like "When you're young you always take what you can get/even bicycles and sprinklers get you wet."
But then, nothing about this album is subtle. Just look at the title track, in which Momsen plays the bad girl role right to the hilt. Amidst some solid guitar riffing we have Momsen's rock-raspy voice spouting off all the different reasons that she's taking a trip on down south in the spiritual sense. There's very little left to the imagination here and it's a lot of fun, if clearly a calculated effort by Momsen (who serves as primary songwriter on all tracks) to play up her image. "Heaven Knows" is more of the same, except it takes on an anthemic quality to play to the disaffected youths who the group counts as their fans. "Tell them it's good, tell them okay/don't do a goddam thing they say," she calls out like a battle cry.
It's not revolutionary and at this point in time, this mission of inspiring an army of emo rock kids into rebellion is old hat for rock music. But at least Momsen, like her contemporary Lzzy Hale, knows how to make it fun. The more that solemn and overly serious rock acts push the genre toward pretentiousness, the more that acts like this are needed to remind us that yes, hard rock can be fun. That doesn't make it great, but it does make it enjoyable to listen to.
It isn't all about thunderingly catchy riffs and sex-drenched lyricism, though. The next track, "House on the Hill," is a poppier number, a power ballad with horror-tinged lyrics suggesting that Momsen is more interested in longevity than a quick rise and fall. "I won't burn out in this place," she intones. "My intention is to fade, and I will." Right after that however it's back into the blatantly over-the-top headbangers with "Sweet Things," a song that is anything but. "Evil making me its whore" is the most over-the-top thing Momsen has delivered to date, and in this case it's not in the good way. The song drives along nicely for a while but then shifts into a back-and-forth sing-song with a sinister male voice that completely disrupts the flow of the song. Also prevalent among the weaker points in this LP are the interlude "Dear Sister" and the overly short "Burn." The first one just doesn't have any traction or impact, while the second one seems like an unfinished song that has a bit of southern rock to it. It would have made a better song if expanded out into a full concept, but it doesn't seem like they were able to make it work.
There are a couple of solid numbers in the back half of the album. Among them the goofily-named "Why'd You Bring a Shotgun to the Party," a down and dirty number with a malicious riff and Momsen getting playful with her voice. It's a remarkably dumb song that tries to be socially relevant and fails, but succeeds in just being a fun, dopey little rock number. Momsen is punching outside of her weight class when she tries to write intelligence social commentary; her best commentary is in the way she subversively plays with her sexuality and twists the bad girl around until she's the one exploiting the camera instead of vice versa. But even that's nothing new. Momsen doesn't innovate; she just does the best that she can firmly within the lines of female-fronted hard rock. "Fucked Up World" is probably the highlight of the last half; it hearkens back to Light Me Up without losing any of the fun or production strengths of this LP. The song ends with the acoustic guitar and harmonica-driven "Waiting For a Friend," which is a solid song but seems out of place here.
Standout Tracks: "Going to Hell" "Heaven Knows," "House on a Hill," "Fucked Up World"
Skippable: "Sweet Things," "Burn"
The 411: Are you getting anything original with The Pretty Reckless? Absolutely not. Taylor Momsen plays the rebellious wild child role well, but it's following firmly in the footsteps of Lita Ford, Shirley Manson, Cherie Currie and others. The Pretty Reckless aren't in their predecessors' class, nor that of contemporaries like Halestorm or Lacuna Coil. But that doesn't mean they aren't fun. There's some joy to be found in the playacting and Momsen does that to the hilt...and with a good, solid rock voice to boot. Going To Hell is hardly a highlight of hard rock music, but it's not particularly bad by any definition either. This is fun, disposable music and there's nothing wrong with that as long as it knows where it truly belongs in the rock pecking order.