Petulant punk revivalist Jay Reatard (born Jay Lindsey) has been a whirlwind of activity since he first stepped onto the scene back in the late ’90s. Prolific in the extreme, Reatard boasts a checkered discography of more than 90 different releases, ranging from his early four-track works to his increasingly polished and pop-driven new recordings. His latest album and first release of all new material for Matador Records, Watch Me Fall, is an energetic blitz of ’60s garage-rock and raucous pop-laden punk that jumps off from the grittier Blood Visions and his recent Matador singles collection into what is perhaps his most accessible territory to date.
Kicking off with the snotty anthemics of “Ain’t Gonna Save Me,” equal parts Stooges, Stiff Little Fingers and single-ready Buzzcocks, the always straightforward Jay Reatard lets you know where he’s going on this album from the outset. Killer guitar hooks and his nasally, whining shouts take center stage atop a driving rhythm section with an obligatory overload of tambourine. For an album of progressions, “Ain’t Gonna Save Me” is just a stone’s throw from some previous works, but it remains an undeniably bold opener nonetheless… maybe a little too bold. As Reatard runs through a handful of similarly paced garage-punk outbursts, it starts to feel like that first track may be a tough act to follow. When those hooks don’t hit as hard in this more pop-driven context, his bombastic vocal work – which seems to always hover on the verge of grating – can be a little much. “Can’t Do It Anymore” takes the record back up to more satisfying heights, its riffage pushing through driving, primal proto-metal leads and palm mutes, aggressive acoustic strumming, and a playful, poppy staccato hook.
While the record on a whole helps to advance Jay Reatard’s creative trajectory, the more pronounced detours from his sound don’t show up until halfway through Watch Me Fall. This updated version of “I’m Watching You” (which originally appeared on Matador Singles ’08) strips away lo-fi weirdness and softens lyrical content, revealing a tender, organ-propelled gem that feels like legitimate, unironic single material. “Wounded,” with its airy, wordless harmonies and catchy acoustic guitar riffs, succumbs to equally sweet tendencies, while “Nothing Now” marries the saccharine with ominous paranoia. However, “There Is No Sun” represents the most obvious departure for Jay Reatard. This patiently paced, and decidedly hi-fi, finale closes out the album with soft guitars, affectionate vocal work, and triumphantly swelling strings.
Somehow he pulls it off. From raucous, youthful punk revival, through a batch of still-cheeky garage-pop gems, on to a warm and refined closing track, Watch Me Fall almost plays out like a narrative of maturation. And while he no doubt feels a bit more sensitive on this effort, Reatard proves he’s able to grow as an artist without sacrificing too much of his edge.
Video: “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me”