Internet punk rock darling Reatard is back with his second Matador album (let’s face it: Singles ’08 was an album on staggered – and ridiculously diminishing – release). But does this new record see the rock world ready to live in his shadow, or is he fading all away?
Whether Jay is heading down the dread road of ‘maturity’ is as yet unclear. He’s less overtly aggressive, that’s for sure. Gone is the energising comedy-horror intensity of Blood Visions. In its place is a more subdued, though arguably no less disconcerting, mood. ‘I’m Watching You’ (presumably the same song that was missing from review copies of Singles ’08), rather than breathlessly ripping through frantic chords, is positively jolly in its hazy 60s, via Inspiral Carpets’ organ-indie, pastiche. This just makes his singing ‘I’m watching you, and everything you do’ that bit weirder.
Watch Me Fall is approximately half the tempo of Blood Visions. Despite that, there is the occasional ‘Hang Them All’ which captures the brutalist pop charm of a ‘See/Saw’ with ease. The mid-way switch in the song is a lovely surprise, too. Overall, though, the guitars are lighter, Reatard opting for indie jangle. This sound admittedly fits the relative aesthetic levity of the songs, and his singing is now oddly reminiscent of Suede’s fey frontman Brett Anderson (especially on the aforementioned ‘I’m Watching You’ and ‘Can’t Do it Anymore’). If this is a conscious effort to distance himself from the rapidly expanding throng of lo-fi trust fund punx, Jay is to be commended. He’s certainly more imaginative than the fuzz-drenched muppets he’s leaving in his wake.
‘Rotten Mind’ is a striking pop gem, and its juxtaposition with the sinister introduction of ‘Nothing Now’ (the evil twin of Terrorvision’s ‘Alice, What’s the Matter?’) displays a sense of dynamic structure that would justify this evolution in the Reatard sound. But there’s something missing. While Reatard does not need to bludgeon in order to be good, you do get the sense there’s a bit of an identity crisis going on. Like Andrew WK, you’re happy for him to leave the mosh pit, but his first steps out of there are slightly shaky.
As a portent of things to come, Watch Me Fall is heartening. It’s more varied than any of his past single albums, and hits spots both familiar and new for him. It’s just not quite the killer release for which Matador may have been hoping. Early Mondo Generator did this kind of thing better, and Reatard himself has hit greater heights, with Blood Visions and Lost Sounds. Look away from the hype, though, and this is a solid rock album.