Release Date: Aug 18, 2009
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Memphis punk rock clown prince ups melody, keeps qualityLike an early-morning cup of coffee shaking awake its master, Jay Reatard's new album and Matador debut, Watch Me Fall, kicks off with a jolt. "It Ain't Gonna Save Me"—inarguably one of the best tracks to date from the Memphis punk rocker born Jay Lindsey—seethes melodic vitriol with its breathless guitars and lyrics about shitting clouds. It's the high point of Watch Me Fall, but the rest of the record hardly slouches.
Funny story: A guy with one of the worst stage names in music (born Jay Lindsey) also has some of its sharpest melodic instincts. The dozen brief, ridiculously infectious tunes on Watch me Fall come wrapped in arrangements that run from frenetic punk to bouncy Britpop to wistful balladry. It’s a bravura performance that ought to win this blog favorite the widespread recognition his songcraft deserves.
After the release of his singles comp, Matador Singles ’08, last year, Jay Reatard (who was baptized Jay Lindsey) told anyone who would listen that he was going to make a kiwi-pop-influenced record, but it still seemed inconceivable that he would actually keep that promise. After all, the guy could probably do album upon album of two-minute punk tracks for the foreseeable future, and still make a decent living that no one would fault him for. Instead, he’s gone and flipped the script.
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.
Garage punk hero Jay Reatard has grown up, and, surprisingly, this has turned out to be a very good thing indeed. After cranking out a couple of critically acclaimed singles collections, Reatard has gone back to the album format, and in the process he's wholeheartedly embraced his latent pop side. [rssbreak] Sure, most of the songs are still under three minutes and sound like a record being played at faster speed, but now there are acoustic guitars, densely layered harmonies and even cello (gasp!).
2009 has been a bit of a pop culture disappointment. Michael Jackson died, Patrick Swayze (or “Pesky the Excitable Boy” if you’re a Gary Busey fan) will only be with us for a few more months, Transformers 2 sucked, someone made GI Joe, and Muse will be allowed to release another album (Eurasia! Eurasia!). Music has been consistently decent. Sure, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Veckatimest, and maybe Bitte Orca were good, if not great albums, but there have been a significant lack of albums that I just can’t get out my head.
Growing up is always a bitch, but maybe more so for a musician who grew up playing punk rock. There's still no right or easy way to mature-- do you stick with what works, playing the music that brought you all your fans, but never getting out from under those initial successes? Or do you slow down, stretch out, and risk sounding nothing like yourself, growing away from the sound that brought in your fans in the first place? This is a conundrum Jay Reatard's facing now, but it isn't the only one: After a successful run of singles on Matador that was compiled last year, Watch Me Fall is the first official full-length since being signed to the label. You can't blame the guy for feeling some pressure, and from the title to the lyrics and even its brooding cover, it's safe to say he might be.
Who is this ‘Jay Reatard’? And what exactly is it that he wants? Okay, there are some literal answers to those questions available pretty easily, should that be your monochromatic bag. But the point is this: after a decade mooching about in various prolific but terminally obscure punk bands, Reatard became a Matador artist last year, pretty much the first anybody in the UK without slam dance-related head trauma had heard of him (though many of us got into his razor-sharp 2006 solo debut Blood Visions as a result). His profile rocketed, and it was that 2008 model that served as the first impression.
If I were in any sort of band, I would pay Jay Reatard to write all of my songs for me. Then, after realizing that I can’t play guitars or drums and that my voice sucks, I would ask him to perform and play all of the music. The man’s got an ear for melody and it’s one that is much more sophisticated and mature than you would assume. When you hear a song like “Faking It,” with its guttural stops and pops, after a sweet two minutes you have a sparkling jolt of punk and pop.
Memphis' great white hope of garage rock, Jay Reatard has coughed out more singles than a broken soda machine. Sadly, the anticipation for his proper Matador debut has obviously taken its toll. Slower, colder, darker than 2006's thrilling Blood Visions and lacking much of its harsh urgency and gripping guitar hooks, Watch Me Fall strives for but never achieves a more classic and accessible sound.