"It Ain't Gonna Save Me"
(from Watch Me Fall)
Everyone sees something different in Jay Reatard. On a gut level, with his bushy head-banger mane, broad shoulders and aloof squint, he fits the archetypal locker kicking, pot-pocketed bully. Or, you may look at his new album cover—reddish eyes, blue tint, foresty background, black cloak – and think he’s vying to be an extra in the next mind-numbing Twilight sequel.
At first I thought Jay Reatard was a punk rocker. The cover of 2006’s Blood Visions had his bare body doused in blood and the simple-grinded propeller guitar style shunted screams of how "easy" it is "when your friends are dead." Then I thought he had a latent metal-head sheen judged by the howling vocals and the ferocious guitars. Then, I thought he was possibly into new-wave and post-punk when I connected the similarity of his high yowled vocals to the chilly affectation of a Gary Numan (ala Tubeway Army).
Now I think he’s all about the pop. And I, like many should, finally realize the futility of finding absolutes in the rock-rooted music of this Memphis born singer/songwriter. As many turns his sound has seemed to take since the boost of attention that fell upon him in 2006, Reatard (born Jay Lindsey), fluctuated through just as much, if not more, styles since he started recording in 1998. Lindsey was most notably spurred by the aggression and grime of fellow Memphisers, the Oblivians, then got into electro-pulsed noise-punk, which made his singles collection in 2008 feel a left turn when the melodies grew buoyant and the harmonies shined through. Now we have an insuppressible pop delicacy like "I’m Watching You," with its parasitically-stuck-in-your-head-hooks and tumbling drums. If we’re shuffle through our genre card catalog trying to pin something on this sound, be it the veiled sunny-doo-wop leanings of a Ramones, or the caustic garage scuff soul of a Sonics, or the parallels to contemporaries like Black Lips, then you hear a song like "Before I Got Caught," with its exploding, reeling riffs, nigh-neurotic/self-deprecating vocal delivery, and apocalyptic/yet-spirited drum march and tell me you don’t hear a bit o’ early Costello in there! But then…, I’m reaching again.
At its heart its pristine pop/punk, but with subtle nuances like no-wave-fuck-all guitar shred, clackety drum-breaks, and neck-sliding bass grooves leaving distinctive marks. Noise, fuzz and feedback all linger in the corners like a cloaked villains plotting against the pop, either in building atmosphere ("Nothing Now") or screeching its way out in grimaced death-knells, adding needed freak-frying to the trouncing rickety-rocking hooks of "Can’t Do It Anymore."
As opposed to Matador records heralding him the savior of an-already-long-fought-movement, (tacitly, "the underground," or of the lo-fi-punks, or whatever) – let’s agree that Reatard is the result of a naturally indefinable and boundless musical generation and that he makes beautifully crafted pop songs, often rewardingly dashed with an identifiable, cathartic roughness in sound and shape. The strutting guitar riffs, the head-bobbing hooks, mixed in with the haunting vocal aura and the spurted screams (from voice and guitar) are enough to make this the doggedly-spun hit of the summer. That much is clear – set aside completely from all the signed-to-a-major-label rigamraole. Because lyrically, the stress of, for once, making an album "for a label" has shown on the nonchalantly iconoclastic "punk" rocker so used to comfortably churning out singles. He sings of a "Man of Steel" becoming weak, or, most tellingly, one song titled "Can’t Do It Anymore." "I see myself up in the sky / people around me, hoping I don’t die…surrounded by people that want to watch me fall…" And, adding later, "I don’t want to be this way."
Reatard should relax. The magic of his aural blend is its inherent charm. It’s easy for many to fall in love with it upon initial listening – especially true for the top-of-his-game feel of Fall. Hence, none of us really want to see him fall, and we’re all pretty confident that, even if this (this, being the work of Fall) is not how he wants to be – then, damn it man, go ahead and veer left again. We followed you this far…