Who You Selling For is the newly-released third album from American rock band The Pretty Reckless, and front-woman Taylor Momsen has come back more resolute than ever in her artistry. Predominantly known as Jenna Humphrey from hit TV show Gossip Girl, Momsen has aimed to overshadow her acting career with her accomplishments in music. Full of teenage angst and rebellion, Momsen kicked off her band and decided to finally embrace her love for rock and heavy metal. With her debut album Light Me Up she explored an alternative rock sound that blends pop rock and post-grunge. With her initial effort, the rock world was incredibly sceptical of Momsen at first. Actress turned singer was a popular career move amongst young actresses that either resulted in miserable failure or simply just birthed another manufactured pop star – as if the world needed another one. Momsen was the centre of many discussions that questioned the legitimacy of her musicianship. The rock and metal genre is already incredibly unforgiving of women in general, so one can easily imagine the ridicule a mainstream actress would face once upon entering. Equipped with a guitar, her own songs and a passion for rock n roll, Momsen gave her critics the middle finger and firmly placed herself alongside other popular rock acts of the 21st century like that of Evanescence, Halestorm and Black Veil Brides.
Who You Selling For is a living testament to The Pretty Reckless’ progression as a band, surpassing both 2010’s Light Me Up and 2014’s Going To Hell in both artistry and musicianship. Momsen, never one to hog the spotlight, has helped write a compelling record with fellow band members. The vocals, guitars, keyboards and drums weave harmoniously into each other to form 12 solid tracks. While hard rock has been on the band’s agenda since the 2012 release of the Hit Me Like A Man EP and then formally executed in their sophomore album Going To Hell. Who You Selling For offers a change in pace that is far more classical rock and bluesy in nature. Tracks like ‘Bedroom Window’, ‘Back to the River’, ‘Living in the Storm’, ‘Already Dead’ and ‘Wild City’ have an almost nostalgic feel to them that emerges out of the lengthy guitar solos and Momsen’s strong rock vocals. The ballads, however, are truly the strongest aspect of the album with the perfect combination of Momsen’s husky vocals and soft acoustic guitars with mellow keyboards. ‘Who You Selling For’, the title track, is a ballad that is a pioneering – the record’s soft spot. ‘The Devil’s Back’ is a highlight, incredibly seductive, it ensures the album doesn’t fizzle out with filler songs as many albums are guilty of.
Hard rock is still a co-dominant aspect of the record’s sound which the band has carried over from their previous album. The album’s leading single ‘Take Me Down’ and subsequent ‘Oh My God’ are fast-paced, energetic tracks that warm up the album after the sombre opening track ‘The Walls Are Closing In/Hangman’. ‘Take Me Down’ and ‘Oh My God’, while being the radio friendly tunes to headbang to, are the weakest songs on the album and sound far too similar to the singles from Going To Hell. Yet this is forgivable considering how strong the opening track is, with track 4, ‘Prisoner’ picking up where ‘The Walls Are Closing In’ leaves off.
‘Wild City’ is the album’s stronghold with its rhythmic guitars and Momsen’s smoky voice crooning “It’s the time of the season, When the blood runs hot, And God must have a reason”. The lyrics are enchanting and the guitars strong. Ben Phillips, co-songwriter and lead guitarist, is one half of The Pretty Reckless and is clearly a major contributor to the band’s musicianship. ‘Mad Love’ wraps up the album with an up-beat song that is shamelessly sensual and lustrous. ‘I am alive when I battle with you, You think you amaze me, I think that it’s true’ melts off Momsen’s tongue and evaporates into the air like cigarette smoke. A great choice for a closing track that energises the record one last time before it takes a bow and the curtain falls.
Who You Selling For is ultimately and unapologetically a journey through rock n roll’s past. As solid as the attempt by The Pretty Reckless to write the perfect rock effort in the modern rock world of metal-core that has dominated since the mid 2000’s, the revival of older genres of rock and metal is something that is being done by many other bands in the present moment. The current trend for today’s rock bands to dabble in nostalgia is borne out here with Momsen’s deep respect for bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who and Pink Floyd evident. Who You Selling For can be viewed as a plea for rock fans and critics to take The Pretty Reckless seriously as a band, as though paying homage to great classics is the most effective way to gain credibility. Whether it has the desired effect the band needs to really think about reinventing their sound in a more original way. The past belongs in the past and while it is a great to give a nod to seminal influences, it could also backfire spectacularly. Instead The Pretty Reckless need to evolve their rock n roll sound in innovative and exciting ways or risk getting left behind and fading into obscurity.