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Metal Hammer
Metal Hammer
Vicky Greer

Your essential guide to every The Pretty Reckless album

The Pretty Reckless

Taylor Momsen isn’t the first child actor to try her hand at a musical career. But she’s got to be the first to front a hard rock band as beloved as The Pretty Reckless.

Signed to a model agency at the age of 2, Momsen first made a name for herself playing the role of Cindy Lou Who in How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and as Jenny Humphrey in Gossip Girl, but just a year after her band released their debut album, Light Me Up, she announced that at 17, she was done with acting for good.

Since then, The Pretty Reckless – Momsen, Ben Phillips, Jamie Perkins and Mark Damon – have put out three further albums, constantly developing their sound and exploring new territories of hard rock with each outing. From their fiery debut to the grief-stricken Death By Rock and Roll, this is everything you need to know about their catalogue.

Light Me Up (2010)

(Image credit: Interscope)

The explosive debut album. Taylor Momsen had met with pop producers in the years leading up to the band’s formation, but it was her introduction to rock producer Kato Khandwala that lit the fuse for The Pretty Reckless. After teasing their first album with an eponymous EP, they unleashed Light Me Up in 2010.

This wasn’t the album the world expected to hear from Cindy Lou Who. TPR's brand of rock was sophisticated, mixing the finer elements of heavy metal with grunge and blues. Ben Phillips’ gritty riffs gave Momsen a platform to make singles Miss Nothing and Make Me Wanna Die teem with attitude, while the softer moments, such as Just Tonight, set up the singer – just 16 when the album was recorded – as a vocal force to be reckoned with.

Light Me Up also gave Momsen the opportunity to shrug off public assumptions of her based on her acting career. From thinly-veiled drug references on My Medicine to sordid tales of murder and seduction on Goin’ Down, this was a public declaration that the teenager was ready to leave the glossy pretence of the acting world behind. But Light Me Up represented more than just its lyrical shock factor. The album’s critical and commercial success – particularly in the UK – ensured that The Pretty Reckless resonated in the rock scene from the very beginning.

Going To Hell (2014)

(Image credit: Razor and Tie)

Round two. Parting ways with Interscope, The Pretty Reckless made a move to Razor & Tie, and Going To Hell elaborates on the bluesy moments of their debut album, resulting in a more mature, elevated style of hard rock. Religious imagery is rife on the album’s title track and Heaven Knows, while Follow Me Down is a hybrid of Southern gothic elements and old-school blues. Going To Hell has plenty of heavy moments, but strikes a balance with ballads like House On A Hill and the gentle interlude Dear Sister.

Going To Hell met with mixed reviews, not that The Pretty Reckless were ever going to be a critics band. But debuting at number 10 on the Billboard 200, with three of its five singles topping the Mainstream Rock Charts, the band proved that they had already a loyal following, and were much more than just a vanity project.

Who You Selling For (2016)

(Image credit: Razor & Tie)

From its opening track, Who You Selling For flipped a lot of what we thought we knew about The Pretty Reckless on its head. The Walls Are Closing In / Hangman starts off as a regular piano-ballad, before switching to a hypnotic, harmonised grunge style reminiscent of Alice In Chains, then growing ever darker. This was no-one idea's of route one commercial rock, and it set up TPR album 3 as an intriguing listen.

The stories they were telling weren’t brand-new, but by taking the fundamental roots of rock and mixing it with grungy, metallic elements and Momsen’s endless charisma, they created something that felt like it was both from another time and cutting edge all at once. Southern rock legend Warren Haynes contributes guitar to Back To The River, and there's a retelling of the classic rock ‘n’ roll myth of making a deal with the devil on lead single Take Me Down.

Who You Selling For is underrated, but the quartet's lowest-selling album showed that The Pretty Reckless were evolving into a band who weren't afraid to challenge their listeners and themselves.

Death By Rock and Roll (2021)

(Image credit: Century Media)

Up until 2021, The Pretty Reckless had veiled a lot of their lyrics in myth and fiction. They took on personas who made deals with the devil and seduced priests. But two deep personal losses changed everything. First was the death of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, a major influence, who was found dead in his hotel room hours after playing a show with the band in Detroit. One year later, tragedy hit hard again, when their close friend and producer Kato Khandwala was killed in a motorcycle accident.

As a result, Death By Rock and Roll is their most raw, personal album, an exploration of grief that goes to the very roots of their relationship with rock and roll. It dives into even more influences – from the country rock of Rock and Roll Heaven and Harley Darling to the nostalgic Halloween sounds of Broomsticks­ ­– with lyrics that cut deeper than ever before. And as a sign that the band were becoming increasingly respected by peers, Tom Morello guests on And So It Went, while Soundgarden's Kim Thayil and Matt Cameron play on the powerful Only Love Can Save Me Now. An important release for a band with much more to give, Death By Rock and Roll is first-hand evidence of the life-saving power of music.

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