On discovering that The Pretty Reckless was a grungy rock band I immediately created a mental list of clichés that would almost certainly be present. Who You Selling For includes almost all of them. There are the obligatory references to the Devil - “The Devil’s Back / sign with the devil” - and Death - “Oh My God, wish I was Dead / I’m Cold, Already Dead”. Take Me Down is entirely dedicated to rock and roll, and the same can be said for the title track, Who You Selling For, and Drugs. Inevitably Sex also makes an appearance - “She took too many daddies, Took too many home”.
There are, however, some interesting themes hidden in the cracks of this wall of clichés, body image and self-worth appear sporadically throughout the album. Oh My God includes the lyrics “Oh my god, wish I was thin / I am a victim of my own self-worth” and The Devil’s Back asks “remember when you were skinny?” Lyrics such as “Oh my god, wish I could pray / Believe in the words your religions all say” show the ideas of the loss of religion and rebellion against parents (“mama” is mentioned multiple times throughout the album) creating a more nuanced approach to the typical use of religious imagery within heavy rock music. Regrets at growing old also raise their head in the Devil’s Back, “Anxiety is killing me slowly / what happened to youthful carefree / when did I get so old?” However, this feels a little inauthentic given that the lead singer and songwriter, Taylor Momsen is only 23. There is also a general feeling of despair over the current state of the world and a desire to go back to the past in this album. This creates a melancholy feel and this often means that there is less anger and passion and more of a palpable sense of defeat; the album suffers for this. These themes give us a glimpse into an album that addresses mental issues and a complex relationship with religion connected with rebellion against parents, however, these are only fleeting and quickly disappear back into a sea of rock clichés.
This is not just confined to the lyrics many of the songs are very typical “grungy American rock songs”, with riffs that are very familiar. For example, Oh My God has more than a passing resemblance to The Ace Of Spades and Mad Love wouldn’t be out of place in Kasabian’s latest album. The Pretty Reckless are sticking to a tried and tested rock formula and as such create solid if somewhat unmemorable rock songs. The main issue that causes this lack of memorability is a lack of variation within songs. There is a steady background of rhythm guitar with a few riffs thrown within every tune and this leads to a situation where it is easy to lose interest and just hear white noise.
Who You Selling For does attempt to break up this monotony by introducing more bluesy influences. The opener, The Walls Are Closing In / Hangman, starts as a piano based blues song before developing into a classically heavy rock song. This seems to promise a combination of both rock and blues influences within the album. Only Living In The Storm delivers on this promise by having a quieter obviously blues inspired interlude between heavier rock segments. However, For the most part the blues inspired songs are kept separate from the rock influences. This leads to The Pretty Reckless’ third offering being unsure of its identity and as such does not excel at being either a good rock album or a good blues album and instead settles for being average. This issue is not present in the previous album, Going To Hell, which is comfortable being a heavy rock album and as such exudes a confidence and passion that is never really present in Who You Selling For.
Ultimately Who You Selling For is a solid if somewhat bland rock album. However, there are hints that it could have been so much more. Interesting themes of mental health and the loss of religion appear if you can dig beneath the layers of rock cliché and there are some attempts to combine rock sounds with more bluesy influences that would have greatly improved the album if used more often. However, The Pretty Reckless try to include too many themes, some of which seem inauthentic, and fail to combine rock and blues influences effectively. This leads to it being impossible to see what Who You Selling For is trying to be. The Pretty Reckless need to know what they are trying to achieve if they want to make albums which are not just average.