[12 August 2009]
No one would make the mistake of callingWatch Me Fall a polished album. If 12 raucous songs in 32 minutes is pretty much par for the course for punk, then Jay Reatard is getting his PhD. After stints with the Reatards and Lost Souls, Reatard is something of a seasoned pro, but he still sounds delighted by the newness of the music he’s making. This is his second solo release after over a decade in the music business, and it’s properly brilliant.
Reatard, née Jay Lindsey, might be riding a wave of critical and popular buzz, but he seems most comfortable just making his signature band of garage punk. The Memphis native isn’t playing up his newfound star power, nor is his experimenting with a time-tested formula. Instead he brings lots of style, spirit, and musical know-how to this sophomore release.
Opener “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” is glitzy, glorious, absolutely bonkers pop music, and all the better for it. It’s tough to find a better introduction into Jay Reatard’s world, slightly skewed that it is. And the snarling “Man of Steel” sounds curiously like old-school British garage-punk, even though Reatard is American to his core. Reatard’s vocals aren’t for the faint of heart; they’re a mix of Johnny Rotten sneer and Gordan Gano anxiety, plus a bit of Bowie on “I’m Watching You”. That might not sound fun on paper, but Reatard isn’t here for statements. He’s here to entertain himself, and you’re just along for the ride.
That’s why the buoyant pop of “Wounded” or the bounce of “I Can’t Do it Anymore” never feel forced, even though they’re the album’s most accessible tracks. Even with some pretty nasty titles (“Rotten Mind”, “Hang Them All”), this is very much a pop album at heart, with nods towards surf and garage as appropriate. Maybe that’s why “Nothing Now” feels like the album’s only failure, because it’s a dark sound on an album that, at heart, sounds more like a ‘60s beach getaway full of birds, boys, and beer. Or at least, the kid that party rejected for being just a little too weird.
Sure, there’s not a lot of depth here; there are probably single-celled life forms that are more complex. But in the true spirit of good old fashioned, nasty punk tunes, Watch Me Fall gets away with whatever it tries to pull, and that’s saying something. And it’s tough to say whether Reatard will last past the next wave of fashion, as his sound seems somehow irrevocably linked to the times.
But those are small quarrels with a genuinely great album. In many ways, despite Reatard’s forested snarl on the cover, it’s the perfect summer album: exuberant, lighthearted, with hooks to spare, and plenty of surf rock. It’s just further proof that great things come in strange packages.
“People around me hope I don’t die,” Reatard sings on “Rotten Mind”. You bet we do, Jay. Because every now and then you come across an album that makes you say, without hesitation, this is going to be—or at least, ought to be—huge. Watch Me Fall is one of those albums.