Sound — 7
Let me get this out of the way first: I've never watched "Gossip Girl." Not even once. Taylor Momsen's involvement in this band remains completely and utterly untainted by any appearance in a hit TV series. Teen drama involvement notwithstanding, Taylor has had many opportunities for growth and maturity since the end of the series four years ago, and what follows is a very mature-sounding hard rock and blues album. While Taylor's hit TV series pedigree is almost no doubt guaranteeing this band a much larger fanbase than is probably normal for a band of this sound in this day and age, it's surprising to see a band like this show this much talent and maturity and honesty on a record. With the lineup rounded out by guitarist Ben Phillips, bassist Mark Damon, and drummer Jamie Perkins, the band deceptively opens the record with a piano-led intro (played by Andy Burton, along with all of the other keyboards on the record), the first part of "The Walls Are Closing In/Hangman," before launching into the riffy "Hangman" main body of the piece. It's a pretty good set up for the rest of the record, showcasing some of the band's grungy guitar playing and groove-oriented rhythms. The chorus is like a softer, female-led version of Alice In Chains, and totally infectious. All in all, it's a good way to open the record, and the following track, "Oh My God," ups the ante even further with some almost-metallic instrumental playing, and Taylor's vocals taking on a raspier quality. The tracks on the album vary from the stripped-down rockers "Take Me Down," "Living in the Storm" and "The Prisoner," louder Hendrix-esque wah-inflected tracks like "Wild City," the folk-blues inspired "Back to the River" which features Warren Haynes for a blistering Southern rock solo, the modern and catchy title track, acoustic tracks like "Bedroom Window," and even a sort of epic-length Beatles-esque number in "The Devil's Back" with a very George Harrison-esque guitar solo.
The playing on the record is rather good, with every member of the band contributing to a varied sort of stripped-back style, focusing mainly on late '60s/early '70s hard rock, but with ventures into psychedelia, blues, folk, and Southern rock. Ben Phillips is a pretty decent player, with many really good riffs and some lovely classic rock soloing. The rhythm section of Mark Damon and Jamie Perkins does a great job of holding up the other end of the spectrum, and even though they don't get very many oblique stand-out moments, they fill the space behind the guitars and vocals very well. The production, done by Kato Khandwala (Paramore, We Are Harlot, Scar The Martyr), is very modern-sounding, but also very stripped-down. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the tracking of this album was done live-off-the-floor, as it actually does sound like a band playing in a room together, which is one of the things I have to say I am loving most about the album.
My only big gripe with the album is that at moments, it does sound a bit like the band wears its influence on its sleeve a little too heavily, but it might have something to do with the idea that I generally find classic rock throwbacks to be a little lacking in originality. The songs themselves are quite good, but there wasn't any one moment that really stuck out to me in a "this part is much better than the rest of the album" kind of way. But all-in-all, it's actually a pretty good record.
Lyrics — 7
Taylor Momsen's sultry, raspy voice, which is kind of a Janis Joplin-meets-Stevie Nicks kind of thing, is something many people will likely define as the center of attention for this band. And let it be known that she does have an absolutely gorgeous voice. And, unlike a lot of singers, even in this genre, she sounds very natural and uneffected on this record. That is to say, if there is any pitch correction on her voice, it's hidden so well that it's hard to tell and actually doesn't do anything to affect her emotional vocal style. It's quite refreshing to hear a singer that sounds as if they can actually sing on a record, and her voice is definitely one of the more pleasant surprises for me on this record.
Lyrically speaking, the album is a bit of a mixed bag. While the opening track, "The Walls Are Closing In/Hangman," has some delightfully dark lyrics ("As I wait for the light to come/I will take not a thing/For what I would bring/That won't decompose/As my body is disposed/And the earth weights a ton/And now my life is done/As I wait for the light to come"), there are some lyrics that, while the message is appreciated, I feel could have been executed better ("Oh my god, wish I was black/Wish I had soul and my music attacked/I am so white, shine like the sun/Just like we've been counting down to the one" from "Oh My God"). There are also social commentaries like "Living in the Storm" ("They're dropping bombs on all of my friends/Every time I turn around they're blowing up again/But it's not me/Out on the streets"). For the most part, though, the lyrics are quite poetic and dark, in the vein of many blues lyricists before her, but without any real pointed meaning to them, preferring to stay rather cryptic.
Overall Impression — 7
The Pretty Reckless have made a pretty good record, with a very organic and lively sound, and some real talent. It's usually a gamble when actors or actresses break into the music industry (the only band I can think of with the same measure of musical success from a breakout actor that actually has quality to match, off the top of my head, is perhaps 30 Seconds To Mars on their first few records), but Taylor and her band have actually managed to create music that's worth listening to. It's not the most creative or special music that's out there right now, and there are definitely better bands out there, but this was a fairly enjoyable listen throughout, and the production was something I found to be quite well-done. I'd definitely recommend checking this band out if you haven't already, and I find it unlikely that you'll be thoroughly disappointed.