Friday, March 16, 2012

Taylor Momsen Says Hit Me Like A Man

When Taylor Momsen remade herself to front The Pretty Reckless, some people were taken aback. I wasn't one of them. Make Me Wanna Die was a powerful introduction for the (then) 16-year-old Gossip Girl actress on the Kick-Ass soundtrack.

For anyone still unconvinced that she was the real deal, the band's self-titled three-track EP won a few more over. My Medicine and Going Down rightly earned some anticipation for the album, Light Me Up.

On the whole, however, and despite its popularity, the album wasn't as great as the EP suggested. Momsen and company had straddled the fence between pop and rock, producing a half great album. But that isn't the case for their new EP, Hit Me Like A Man. The Pretty Reckless seem settled to keep things hot and heavy.

Hit Me Like A Man adds three ferociously good heavies.  

Never mind two of the five tracks are live recasts of Light Me Up. Both Make Me Wanna Die (complete with audio chanting and added guitar finesse) and Since You're Gone fit in with this EP.

The real magic happens with the newest material. Hit Me Like A Man, Under The Water, and Cold Blooded all represent the kinds of the songs that some hoped to hear more of on the first album. There is no pop-rock fence straddling here. The Pretty Reckless know their hearts belong to rock and roll.

Hit Me Like A Man pulls out all the stops, carrying over some familiar arrangements from the best of Light Me Up, but with a freshness that capitalizes on Momson's remarkable genre-bending range. The song carries her smoky, brooding blues through the verse, teases her acoustically pleasant pop voice in a pre-chorus, and then powers the rock growls for the chorus. The song is remarkably composed and the delivery unfettered. It's one of the most interesting songs I've heard for some time.

While the sample clip doesn't showcase it in entirety, it does provide some semblance of what to expect from the EP, courtesy of Interscope Records. The track carries the first 1:30 of the 4:43 song.

The next new track, Under The Water, is a classic rock ballad with an acoustic open. The open first creates the illusion that the song will drift into safer pop waters, but it thankfully never does. Instead, Momsen adds more richness with every refrain. Also of note, Ben Phillips adds a memorable guitar solo into the song. The only thing that wasn't needed, in my opinion, was a vocal echo overlay.

Cold Blooded also carries some experimental arrangements, including an organ open that establishes and helps to maintain a bluesy, soulful rock groove throughout. Not only does it include another memorable guitar solo, but Phillips lends his voice to transform the song into an unexpected duet while Mark Damon (bass) and Jamie Perkins (drums) hold down the beat.

It's a great reminder that although Momson gets more attention, The Pretty Reckless is an incredibly accomplished band. Everyone on the inside knows it and it's great more people outside will too.

It's not a surprise to anyone who has seen them live. The other members are finding themselves in the spotlight more often, especially Phillips who has always been instrumental in assisting Momson with the songwriting (along with Kato Khandwala) and in reaching her potential. Here is a clip of Momson and Phillips on the MTV special, with Phillips providing backing vocals for an acoustic Zombie.

This live acoustic version really relights up Zombie in interesting and unexpected ways. And although it is not included on the EP, it does demonstrate the diversity of both Momsen and Phillips (easily said about Damon and Perkins too). So with this little bit of trivia and the fact that Momsen gave up on acting to pursue music full time, you can expect The Pretty Reckless will only get better.

The Pretty Reckless' Hit Me Like A Man Hits Hard At 9.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

When I reviewed The Pretty Reckless the first time, there wasn't nearly the same level of excitement from people as there is with this new release. The credit belongs to everyone involved. The EP has some experimental arrangements that will be felt for a long time to come. And their live shows rock.

Hit Me Like A Man by The Pretty Reckless is up on iTunes. You can also pick up the Hit Me Like A Man EP for a few pennies less on Amazon. Barnes & Noble carries the EP as a CD. The band is currently on tour, playing Seattle on St. Patrick's Day before heading to Canada and the Midwest. Look for them on the East Coast in early April.
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