2021 was the year Taylor Momsen completely finished Turning Gold. Death By Rock And Roll is one of the years best trad rock records. It’s features heavy hitter special guests who all have ties back to Chris Cornell. At the age of 25 her bands profile Got So High you could see them Standing At The Wall of Rock And Roll Heaven and not even the most ardent of retro minded hate keepin’ gate keepers could deny them full access.
This band took the center of the biggest stage in rock and gave us back all of the tricks, all the shapes and the sheer joy of everything from Alice Cooper to Soundgarden. Then from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Whitesnake. The big difference now is of course the girls are in control. Taylor is a perfect rock and roll band leader. To deny her equality to the Axl’s, Tyler’s and the Coverdale’s would be to play your own hand as prejudiced. She’s just as cool as Liam or Noel G, as Dave Grohl, as Steven Tyler or Jim Morrison. She’s clearly as gifted as Chris Robinson and as iconic as Slash.
Witches Burn is one of DXRNR’s full on big rock moments. The album starts strong with its lead single title track (an ode to hendoism and excess that make Mötley Crüe look tame). That’s closely followed with the ‘Guest Stars up front’ one two (or is it two three?) gambit of the half of Soundgarden featuring Only Love Can Save Me Now. It burns from the inside with mutual respect for the power of rock and gives way to the other big connection to Chris. Tom Morello on And So It Went would have been the peak of most young bands albums. But that’s just it. While they’re still in their 20’s The Pretty Reckless are not newcomers to the game. Light Me Up is over a decade old now. It’s taking too long to break these newer bands into headliner status for audiences to see them in their prime. If Foo Fighters are the newest dinosaurs at the top of the bill (I don’t know my Jurassic from my Triassic but I know Rock and Roll Archaeology) I can’t wait to see a festival with Halestorm one night, TPR the next and close the thing out with a new new act. I think it’s safe to say there’s enough 21st century rock and roll to really stop hanging on to the 90’s-80’s and 70’s like they’re the only music that counts.
When bands are putting out records as classic sounding as 25. A Bond theme standard anthem but for a girl about to sort her lousy relationship out, then they follow that with a pummeling rocker like My Bones. Well, it’s undeniable that the Lady and her band don’t ‘need’ those guests to raise their profile. They got that out of the way on side one so the guts of the album could be all their own work. The Cornell connection is of course key to the album theme. The Pretty Reckless were supporting Soundgarden on the night Chris died. The bands received the news together. Young Taylor lost her mentor when Kim, Matt and Ben lost their band leader and friend. The grief is tangible on Death By Rock And Roll. The respect to honour the traditions. The common language, the culture of rock is sewn into this band and this record.
They sound ‘4 real’ when they slip from ambiguous semi-acoustic anthem for the wasted Got So High into Disney Goth theme music Broomsticks (a tiny curio of a track released at Halloween last year, which now on the album serves as the intro for the track we’ve come to praise today). There’s a bit of country in the melodies of The Pretty Reckless when they’re playing a ballad. Such is the way of the hair metal world. It never hurt GNR, Poison or Tesla. placed carefully between pounding rocker and gothy theme park ride it doesn’t stand out as odd.
The slow clanging opening of Witches Burn will be welcomed by the live crowd. The searing vocal and unflinching lyrics will be hollered back by boys and girls of every age. The chorus is pure rock and roll showboating. I can imagine Rob Halford hearing parts of this chorus the rest of us can’t.
“For this I’ll Buuuuuuuurrrrrn, One thing I’ve learned, you’ll get your turn, All witches burn!”
There’s an effects laden solo before a bring it on down moment.
“Down and down we go, scatter your ashes in the shape of a soul”
In the days of the early 80’s and late 70’s when hard rock album track listings rarely reach double digits the next track would have made a fine closing statement. Standing At The Wall is an epic torch song with gentle acoustics and just a huge voice doing all the heavy lifting. The temptation to slather it with strings and big drums must have been huge. They keep their powder dry. For so long. Then it all comes in. As predicted. Taylor’s doing Broadway style wailing now as the crescendo the song deserves takes everything to musical theater town. If the album had ended there, there would not be an ounce of fat on the whole thing.
Like a modern action epic movie though Death By Rock And Roll has more than one ending. I get it. Why finish at stage school when you want to go out on a rock and roll number? Turning Gold starts side four like a lap of honour. With sustained power chords left hanging in the air as drums pump out a heartbeat Momsen sings “I can feel the power” she’s speaking for the listener too I think.
This big closer gives way with some sitar style strings to the next Country Rock moment. Rock And Roll Heaven is a new song that sounds like you already know it. An ode to The Beatles, Janis, the 27 Club. It’s littered with references to Pink Floyd, The Band and “A Garden Full Of Sound”. It’s a country heartbreaker about records just like Don McClean’s American Pie, Bad Company’s Shooting Star, Tom Petty’s Into The Great Wide Open and many a song about how Rock And Roll will save us all. Would have been a perfect way to finish… But no.
Harley Darling may be about Margot Robbie. Or a motorbike. Or possibly Kevin Smith’s daughter. It’s hard to say for sure but it is a stetson-wearing-slow-motion-old-glory-flapper. A bit Dolly Parton, a bit Grateful Dead. On it’s surface it’s about a biker leaving his girl behind. It’s the least epic thing on the whole record and may point towards a less intense future for Momsen and The Reckless. I like it. I like where they put it on the record. It feels like it’s at the end of an era. End credit music hopefully for a chapter full of risk.
This band know who they are. Now without a doubt, so do the rockers of the world. May they live long and prosper.