I recently had a conversation about the current rise of rock music with a musician in the scene who observes it closely. Our mutual agreement was that even though rock was never dead, it is making a strong return in recent years. Artists are turning to the power, inspiration, and energy of rock music, as it is something our society desperately needs right now.
As if to back-up our conclusions, an iconic rock and roll band made a thundering comeback. The Pretty Reckless experienced a rebirth after Taylor Momsen viciously fought death, devastation, and complete loss of purpose. Death By Rock And Roll is not only a great example of contemporary hard rock music. It is a tribute to life and death, a memorial of a great human being, and a powerful reminder of what follows if you push through pain and devastation.
The last time we experienced the demolishing energy and liberating spirit of The Pretty Reckless was in 2016. Who You Selling For encapsulated the essence of the band with a new, refined look and sound.
Intimate, highly emotional lyrics and on-point metaphors surrounded the twelve songs. The instrumental structured was grandiose and powerful – the most recognizable feature of the band was preserved and boosted with a fresh retouch. Electrifying rock riffs, aggressive drums, raspy dark vocals and gentle singing – all parts of the thought-provoking experience the band always provides.
Sadly, great music is often fueled by heartbreaking moments. Taylor Momsen is no stranger to those.
In 2017 while literally living her dream – leading the rapid rise of her band and supporting Soundgarden on their North America tour, the first disaster struck. The heavenly run quickly turned into a hellish nightmare with the tragic loss of Chris Cornell – one of Momsen’s biggest idols. We can only imagine what it feels like to the stage with a person meaning so much to you one night and waking up to the news of his suicide the next day.
We’d played the show with them, it was great, and then to wake up to the news the next morning that he was no longer with us was absolutely devastating to me. That’s an understatement of a sentiment.Taylor Momsen for Kerrang!
What followed was a nearly finishing blow. Kato Khandwala – Momsen’s best friend and the long-time producer of The Pretty Reckless lost his life in a motorcycle accident in 2018. Just when the frontwoman was getting ready to start seeking healing in music, preparing to work on the new album together with Kato.
That was the nail in the coffin for me. I spiraled downward very quickly into this dark hole of depression, and I was a mess. I got to a place where I kind of gave up. I gave up on everything – on life, on music, I was looking at everything and going, ‘What’s the fucking point? Everything I love is dead. What’s the point of anything?’ And eventually, I kind of put myself into my own isolation, which maybe was not the best idea.Taylor Momsen for Kerrang!
For Death By Rock And Roll to form, Momsen had to go through hell and fight a battle only she knows the real scope of. That makes the album a really important piece of art for the band and the listeners alike. It manifests the power of healing that music holds, it radiates sympathy, empowerment, and reassurance.
Death By Rock And Roll is also a touching tribute to the life of Kato Khandwala. The title itself is a phrase Kato used to often say –a way of life he stuck to until the very end.
The concept of the record seems to be centred around life, death, and rebirth. Momsen takes us on a journey through her life experiences and defining moments. She contemplates the meaning of life and the terrors of death while trying to crawl out of the devastation her mind was trapped in during the recording process.
Eventually, she walks the rocky road towards liberation and healing showing us that the rebirth that follows after the struggle is worth the effort. Death By Rock And Roll is a thought-provoking piece of art that shines with beautiful concept, nearly perfect execution, and the comeback of the vicious rock and roll The Pretty Reckless will always be the masters of.
It’s very much a rebirth for this band. It feels like the first record in so many ways of just that pure, raw inspiration that you can’t control, and in the sense that we had to learn to do everything from the beginning again. We had to completely start from scratch because it was the first album we’ve ever made without Kato. So it was a lot of learning, a lot of growing, a lot of pain, a lot of struggle, but I think at the end of it, we really did create something extraordinarily special that I’m so proud of.Taylor Momsen via Paper Mag
Momsen opens the scene with the unfaltering statement to live and die by rock and roll. The opening track holds many metaphors telling us about the frontwoman’s decision to dedicate her entire life to music. References and homage to the 27 Club are also visible, reinforcing the message of the song and making it a noteworthy tribute to the world of rock music.
The visuals though!
The first track starts a symbolic circle closed by one of the final songs – Rock And Roll Heaven. The latter ties in with the main idea of the record – the healing power of music (supported by references to the singer’s personal story around it).
Freedom found me when I first heard The Beatles sing
Music surroundin’ me, the church bells start to ring
I stole my daddy’s vinyl and burned that needle out
Jimi, Janis and Morrison, a garden full of sound
I sold my car for an old guitar and set out on the road
My mama cried as she waved goodbye, prayin’ for my soul
It is worth noticing the intimate references – The Beatles were the first band Momsen ever listened to and the one that shook her out of her depressive period after the death of Kato Khandwala. That is followed by her personal story about entering the world of music and a series of other clever remarks (Chris Cornell’s band Soundgarden, Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig In The Sky).
Rock And Roll Heaven is also a way for Momsen to say her final goodbye to Kato. That is further extended in the closing track on the album – Harley Darling. The final piece uses the Harley Davidson motorbike as a symbol expressing Momsen’s grief and inextinguishable desire to see her best friend one more time.
Harley Davidson was Khandwala’s favourite motorbike brand and the one he died riding. That makes the song extra sentimental – a quality enhanced by the touching instrumental and sweet lyrical content. It is also the song Khandwala always wanted to write with Momsen – one about riding bikes across America and feeling freedom in your bones.
It perfectly wraps up the record and radiates liberation from the heavy, damaging feelings of sadness and tragedy.
What fills the space between the introductory title track and the fitting closing, is the journey from utter devastation towards rebirth. Only Love Can Save Me accurately shows the anguish after the tragedy. The track is very reflective of the period of writing the album. The symbolic lyrics and the mood created by the instrumentals match for an overwhelming emotional impact.
The track also highlights the need and desire to find salivation during those dark periods – a goal that the rest of the album will continue trying to reach. Only Love Can Save Me futures an appearance by some of Momsen’s all-time idols – Matt Cameron (drummer of Pearl Jam) and Kim Thayil (bassist of Soundgarden). Their parts are easy to notice with smashing solos demonstrating true, powerful rock.
The very intro of the song tells you something dark and bad is coming
And So It Went features another iconic collaborator. Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave) works his magic in an out-of-this-world instrumental near the end of the song. It perfectly blends with Taylor Momsen’s unique vocal execution.
The song paints an apocalyptic picture calling for action, resistance, and change. The urge to shape a new reality can have many meanings, but the song is undeniably rebellious and energetic. It is also very versatile – different singing approaches blend, and toned-down instrumentals shift with explosive riffs to create a dynamic listening experience.
This is probably one of the most beautiful music videos in existence
One of the most important tracks for the record is 25. It is a very reflective song with a confessional structure and dramatic overall feel.
Taylor looks back at her life and touches on her expectations of early death. She mentions the 27 Club and the dangers of the “rock star lifestyle”. However, the song has a positive undertone as we find out the frontwoman managed to stay alive and finds the strength to continue walking confidently towards the future. That gives the track a very empowering undertone – a true rock and roll anthem.
Hardest intro in contemporary rock music. No questions.
My Bones fits well after the dramatic exposition of past and present. In the confident, uplifting song Taylor Momsen merges her gritty vocals with equally powerful instrumentals to create the hard-rock/grunge sound we all love. The song uses captivating storytelling utilizing the build-up of tension and excitement until the very end.
It is very metaphorical and once again can hold many meanings – the story will immerse you in your own interpretation and won’t let you go until you reach the final conclusion.
Got So High is one of the few tracks contrasting the vicious rock energy overflowing from the majority of the record. The song has a mellow sound and vocals slightly reminding of the dreamy, vintage Lana Del Rey atmosphere. The whole vibe of the song has a thinking-out-loud note featuring contemplation about past decision.
Broomsticks marks the half of the record in an effective way. It is an interlude type of track serving as a prequel to Witches Burn. It fits thematically and uses a playful instrumental to set the stage for another exemplary hard rock piece.
Witches Burn is another metaphorical track exposing misogyny and sexism. Sadly, women in rock still experience prejudice and discrimination – something I find unbelievable considering that some of the world’s best rock formations are female-fronted.
However, there is progress towards a more inclusive rock scene, and Witches Burn is a good reminder of how important it is to completely demolish the unjustified sexism. And this goes not only for the rock music world, of course.
Standing At The Wall is another retrospective, dramatic track, this time supported by an almost acoustic instrumental. It shows Momsen being at a total loss and utter devastation – her metaphorical death. She continues reflecting on her life culminating with the current situation where she sees no future.
A lot of la-di-da-da-da’s when we were young
With no memories to weigh us down and life was fun
But now I see, it’s over me
And my dreams are all for naught, but lost at sea
The song can easily be interpreted as an illustration of what Momsen experienced while facing the death of her best friend – an ode to life and death.
After the final exposition of gloom and darkness, Turning Gold starts the healing process. The track fittingly uses a psychedelic intro to set the mood and continues with more contemplation about the meaning of life and death.
Life is an ending starting in the womb
You build a home of brick and mortar, then it is your tomb
The highlight remains the encouragement to keep on pushing through life’s struggles. The overall positive feeling remains despite Momsen still paying a lot of attention to the many paradoxes of existence. It serves as a great transition before finally giving us the conclusion of the journey and the end of suffering.
Death By Rock And Roll is a return of a band the contemporary music scene should be happy to have. The Pretty Reckless make a statement of what true rock and roll is and should be about – a beautiful demonstration of refined artistry.
In times of many personal and global struggles, the record also points out that the rebirth after a major tragedy is a solid reason to not give up on the future. We all know tragedies are unavoidable, so this reminder is very much on-point.
With earth-shattering instrumentals and bewitching vocals, Death By Rock And Roll exposes the many forms of pain but ends with encouragement and inspiration. A work of art done exquisitely well.
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