The Pretty Reckless’s second full-length almost didn’t make it. Hurricane Sandy destroyed the band’s studio and recordings, meaning that it had to start from scratch to put together Going To Hell.
Lead singer Taylor Momsen has grown into a bona fide rock frontwoman with swagger and attitude. This is remarkable, as she isn’t even of legal age in the US yet and doesn’t have the strongest rock voice.
It’s too bad that despite Momsen asserting that the band didn’t follow any formulas or trends, most tracks on Going to Hell do just that. It seems that every second track or so has a predictable slowed-down section before speeding up again. Hell is such a often-covered theme that it borders on cliche.
Opener Follow Me Down starts with the awkward combination of Momsen’s moans and ambulance sirens, before evoking the theatrical with galloping, muscular riffs and Momsen’s jagged vocals. A mind-numbingly repetitive bridge is redeemed by the sinister purring of the stripped down chorus, which recalls Chris Isaak’s Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing.
The title track is undeniable proof of why Madonna picked Momsen to model for her ‘Material Girl’ clothing line. Both grew up Catholic and even confess their sins to open their songs (in Madonna’s case, on the bizarre closer to the Like a Prayer LP, Act of Contrition and the throwaway MDNA opener Girl Gone Wild). Catholic guilt is just another recurring motif throughout popular culture; must there be more music about the subject?
Heaven Knows is an ineffective tribute to the thumping beat of Queen’s We Will Rock You, the group callouts of Joan Jett’s I Love Rock n’ Roll and even the ringing school bells of Alice Cooper’s School’s Out, as the music itself doesn’t really add much to those classic elements. House On A Hill is a forgettable power ballad that’s more Nickelback than Black Sabbath. It would be a musically derivative yet suitable soundtrack to a blockbuster corporate rock music video (shot over a hill of course).
The softer tracks like Blame Me, Burn and the closer Waiting for a Friend are filler. Fucked Up World fails to live up to its title, with some questionable lyrics that don’t really explain why this world is fucked (‘sex and love, and go find a cigarette’- huh?). However, ‘ooh I can see it, coming down’ is a great hook and the percussion is dance-inducing, making this a great closing track for concerts.
The middle of the album is far more rewarding. The schizophrenic duet Sweet Things has Nine Inch Nails-like drum beats and effectively contrasts Momsen’s screaming with the subdued, slowed-down sections. Dear Sister would be a great alternate album opener. Its slow buildup and folky acoustic guitar morph nicely into Absolution, the groovy album highlight that struts and actually has momentum. Why’d You Bring a Shotgun to the Party? is a fun, catchy and great to mindlessly jump to, but doesn’t it sound a bit like P!nk’s So What?
The Pretty Reckless are far from reckless when it comes to putting together adequate songs for their sophomore effort. However, the album’s lyrics and themes about breaking laws, taking lives and hating love are hardly new. It isn’t going to make listeners think that the band has created such great music that it had to have sold its soul to the devil. There are hellishly great albums, but Going to Hell isn’t one of them.