Taylor Momsen talks a lot of shit. At only seventeen-years-old, the bohemian Gossip Girl star is desperate to be recognized as a serious adult musician. In interviews, she discusses how her “best friend is a vibrator” and jokes that she “fucked a priest once”. She bashes pop stars left and right in an attempt to squander the inevitable comparisons between her and musicians her age such as Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift. “I think the Disney bubblegum shit that the world is living on right now is pathetic,” she told FHM UK earlier this summer.
Recently, Momsen found herself in quite a bit of controversy due to a comment she made during an interview with Spin magazine. “People think pop is rock and the lines are getting blurred. Now Rihanna’s wearing fucking leather jackets and it’s really annoying,” she said. The massive amounts of criticism Momsen received for mocking one of the industry’s most prized “it” girls forced her to back-peddle and release a statement, which said that although “Rihanna is great,” the fashion of the rock star look is “the closest thing audiences have to rock right now” in this “very pop-oriented world.” Bold statement, Little J.
With all this talk of “real rock,” you’d expect Momsen to be the reincarnation of Kurt Cobain. Her band, The Pretty Reckless, is releasing their debut album Light Me Up via Interscope Records on August 31st, which Momsen (who co-wrote the entire record and serves as the lead singer) is using as a platform to elect herself as rock & roll’s savior. This “don’t call me a role model”, platinum blonde, raccoon-eyed, ripped corset-wearing, sullen teenager truly believes that her music will raise rock from the ashes of pop.
Now, I don’t necessarily agree with Cindy Lou Who’s claims about rock not having a significant place in today’s music scene, but I must say, this album backs up her self-declared role as adding a beat to the genre’s heart. As annoying and pretentious as she is, Momsen has come out with a record that is surprisingly terrific. She may be far from the new Kurt Cobain, but she’s nailed the vintage Courtney Love sound nearly flawlessly. Momsen’s raw and raspy voice, as well as her ability to rock out over guitar riffs as heavy as her mascara, could serve as a testing subject for vocal cloning. I wouldn’t be surprised if I found out that Momsen sneaked into the studio where Love was recording Hole’s less-than-worthy-of-a-comeback album Nobody’s Daughter and captured her vocal essence in a seashell necklace ala the sea witch in The Little Mermaid. Except in Momsen’s case, the seashell necklace would probably be a leather, spiked choker or a string of bones of Disney starlets that spells out “Told you I was better, mother fuckers.”
The explosive lead single, “Make Me Wanna Die,” bears enough angst that would make Amy Lee of Evanescence recommend Momsen for professional counseling. Whereas the majority of the album has more of a 90’s grunge feel to it, this track stands out as certainly the most radio-friendly due to its up-tempo, catchy, and anguished chorus. The follow-up single, "Miss Nothing," finds Momsen channeling her inner-Shirley Manson so convincingly that upon listening to it, I was hit with an overwhelming wave of nostalgia, causing me to immediately dig up my old copy of Garbage's "Version 2.0." The track is succeeded on the album by "Going Down," Momsen's cleverly crafted, diabolical response (or should I say "fuck you") to the controversy surrounding all the clergy convicted of molestation charges. After all, nothing proves you're an adult more than giving the middle finger to the church, right? Just kidding, Tay-Tay. Don’t unleash your knife collection on me (yes, she actually has one).
Lyrically, the album is just as strong as it is musically. Rather than creating a sappy, cliché “I love you” and/or “I hate you” record, Momsen writes (usually somberly) about larger scale issues ranging from death to religion to sex to substance abuse. Replace the frequency of the word “baby” in a typical pop song with the word “pill,” and you have a typical Pretty Reckless song. The pained, post-hipster persona that Momsen exudes is translated clearly through her writing. While there are certain lines that will make you let out a chuckle or an eye-roll, the majority of Momsen’s writing is shockingly rich with provocative metaphors and a confident story-telling quality. I say “shockingly” because Momsen doesn’t exactly strike me as someone who’s very good with words (exhibit A: every single one of her aforementioned quotes in this article).
What makes Momsen’s lyrics really work, however, is how blatantly honest they are. She’s clearly not afraid to spill her most intrinsic feelings into her songs. At times she’s scathingly pissed (“Since You’re Gone”), scared (“My Medicine”), vindictive (“Light Me Up”), and so vulnerable (“Nothing Left To Lose”, “Just Tonight”) that you temporarily forget how precocious she is and instead just want to give her a hug and tell her that things will all work out for the best. On this album, Momsen runs the gamut from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other, hitting every stop along the way. And while this track-listing may seem thematically scattered, the sophisticated musical accompaniment carrying these songs helps them flow and transition into one large, cohesive near-brilliant single entity. The tabloids can mock Momsen’s hurry to become a legal adult as much as they want, but Light Me Up displays a musical maturity that few musicians years her senior have accomplished.
The trick to releasing your frustration towards Momsen’s less than bring-home-to-mama personality is to let it out in a mosh-pit to her band’s music. As much as you might want to shake her and scream, “we get it, you’re edgy,” you can’t deny that Light Me Up is the most promising debut from a young, female-fronted rock band since (dare I say?) The Runaways. If Momsen can come out with music of this caliber at seventeen, I can’t wait to hear what she releases after a few more tortured, liquor-soaked years of rock-stardom.