Confession; the only reason I knew The Pretty Reckless was even a band in 2010 was because my favourite love-to-hate Gossip Girl head case, Jenny Humphrey (a.k.a. Taylor Momsen), decided to ditch the show and front a rock band. Whaaaat? Initially I was sceptical; another actor-turned-singer (perfume, make-up and handbag lines presumably to follow). But I was wrong, Momsen with her fiery-swagger proving to be a formidable frontwoman and legit musical talent. Since their first album in 2010, the group has achieved three number one rock hits in the US – last achieved by a female fronted band (The Pretenders) almost 25-years-ago. Clearly, vanity band this was not.
Who You Selling For sees the now 23-year-old Momsen’s smoky and charismatic vocals greatly mature from their first, more pop driven LP Light Me Up – released when she was just 15 (!). This 12-track album showcases the band’s scope and depth, with traditional hard rock tracks (‘Oh My God,’ ‘Prisoner,’ ‘Wild City,’ ‘Living In The Storm’), more downtempo numbers (‘The Walls Are Closing In,’ ‘Take Me Down,’ ‘Back To The River,’ ‘Who You Selling For’) and acoustic ballads (‘Bedroom Window’ and ‘The Devil’s Back’). The songs, written by Momsen and guitarist Ben Phillips, maintain their dark and personal lyrical signature, though sounds of their musical influences emerge. Echoes of The Beatles feature alongside flavours of Alice In Chains, Motörhead, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and The Smashing Pumpkins throughout this versatile offering. On the provocative album title, Momsen noted, “for me, it’s a question that challenges what I’m doing with my life. It questions the meaning of my actions whatever they are. It also defines the record in a grander way by asking the listener to look into the meaning of each song past the obvious.”
Two standout tracks for me are the album’s newly released second single, ‘Oh My God’, and ‘The Devil’s Back’ – both lyrically desolate but sonically, polar opposite. ‘Oh My God’ is angry, fast-paced, headbanging, Momsen hurling the lyrics at you, “Oh my god, wish I was thin / Wish I was more normal human being / I’m just like them, Stuck in the dirt / I am a victim of my own self-worth”. While ‘The Devil’s Back’ showcases an entirely different side of the band, Momsen sounds mournful – surrendering to depression and anxiety. A softly sung note-to-self; “Hey me / Remember when you were skinny / Remember when you didn't worry / Remember when you didn’t care / That’s when you were living / And I don't know what’s happened to me / I guess the devil’s back”. This track reaches a surprising seven minutes, concluding with an extraordinary guitar solo by Phillips.
Momsen was thrust into the acting spotlight from the age of two, with other themes on the album including the desire to disappear from the glare of the celebrity spotlight and the pressure it brings. “I’ve had such a strange life,” Momsen said. “I’ve always felt on my own, running around the world on some mission that I barely understood.” Emotionally we’re taken on a journey ranging from confusion and frustration to depression and despair. To round out the recording process guitarist Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers), guitarist Tommy Byrnes (Billy Joel), and keyboardist Andy Burton (Ian Hunter) were brought in, as well as backing vocalists Janice Pendarvis (David Bowie), Jenny Douglas-Foote (P!nk), and Sophia Ramos (Rod Stewart). “It was so great having that many musicians in a room playing together and just hitting the record button,” Momsen said. “It gave life to these songs that were written tucked away in a bedroom and it enabled us to really deliver the most honest performances possible. What you hear is what it sounded like, no frills. That’s it.”