Watch Me Fall
, August 18th, 2009 07:53
Tireless Memphis-based garage ingénue Jay Reatard has spoken of the mild culture shock involved in making this album, specifically the unfamiliar experience of having a record label observe its construction, as opposed to letting him finish and then releasing it a few months later. Lest you read this as a pre-emptive excuse for turning in a substandard product, understand that little has changed in Reatardville; the 29-year-old's remarkable knack for penning parallel-world pop smashes is still burgeoning, and he's still presenting it in the form of blown-out powerpop, prodigal indie-rock and first-wave punk thrills.
For all the lyrical talk of "all is lost, there is no hope," 'It Ain't Gonna Save Me' sounds full of beans, shunted along by electric piano and rattly drums - an opening song with an agenda. At the risk of joining a chorus in lieu of proffering original observations, may I echo the opinions of (at least) a few other people by highlighting the vocal similarities between Jay, on this song most notably, and Gaz Coombes from Supergrass? The increasingly melody-driven nature of our man's music appears to have lent emphasis to the oddly Anglicised inflections in his singing voice; previously, any fixation on the peculiarities of this land mass had come through in his music, Stranglers-recalling organ and a sulphate-coated Stiff Records sensibility.
In all other respects, certainly, he's a product of a staunchly American punk rock landscape: initially inspired to record songs by the soul-power garage rock of fellow Memphis dwellers The Oblivians, the stories of physical confrontation emerging from scores of Reatard shows suggest that the testosterone surplus of Eighties US hardcore - both performers and audience - is still boiling away. (Not that British punk rock was free of such rum interaction, of course, but still.)
With increased reliance on melody, though, comes a broader shift in aesthetic. 'Wounded''s guitars are textbook UK jangle-pop with an arguable jigger of Eighties REM: if they'd mixed the drums at about a third of their volume here and got a Scouser to sing it, you might believe it was a long-lost La's song. They didn't do that, though, so it sounds like Jay Reatard. You might deign to pluck old time New Zealand indie, or UK tweesters like The Shop Assistants, or James (as in the band!) from closing track 'There Is No Sun'. Jay being as much of an obscure record gobbler as his core fanbase, all these namedrops are probably way off.
This is the first Jay Reatard studio album since 2006, the previous two full-lengths being singles collections. However, there's little that suggests to the layperson that Jay makes a distinction between songs written for singles and songs written for albums - every track on Watch Me Fall could strike out on its own. There isn't an actual bad track on the disc: some numbers pack lyrical refrains and hooks that pierce the brain, but even the ones that don't have an interesting musical flourish or two. However, while his batting average may have never been higher, he might not be hitting quite as many sixes - that is to say, none of these 12 songs are quite as good as 'Night Of Broken Glass', 'Screaming Hand' or 'Always Wanting More'. Does this make it a substandard product? By no means. As a songwriter and as a persona, Jay Reatard carries a banner for the enduring powers of rock'n'roll.