Friday, August 28, 2009

Reverse In Utero: Jay Reatard's Watch Me Fall

Yes, I realize this is a bit late but if I wanted to meet deadlines, I would try try to get paid for this stuff instead of giving it away for free.

Advance word about Jay Reatard's debut full-length for Matador was that it was a departure from the aggressive sound of the titanic Blood Visions album. The words "poppy" and "wimpy" were thrown around. More to the point, an inside source said that it was "very New Zealand." This shouldn't really come as much of a surprise as Mr. Reatard did an ace cover of a Go-Betweens song on the B-side to his first release following Blood Visions. (The Go-Betweens are, of course, not from New Zealand but they're in the neighborhood, geographically and musically.)

It's understandable that Mr. Reatard would want to alter his sound not only to progress as an artist but to dissociate himself from a trend that he himself helped initiate. Even though Blood Visions was ignored by most major music outlets, it's clearly become a yardstick of neuvo-DIY and Jay himself has become probably its most recognizable figure. It's a situation that reminds me a bit of Nirvana following up Nevermind with the abrasive In Utero. Grunge was going pop and Nirvana did the their best to separate themselves and challenge their audience. Jay Reatard, while not playing for the same stakes as Nirvana did, is more or less doing the same here. Some have whispered "sell out" but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Jay could have presented the world with Blood Visions II and with certainty garnered the immediate acclaim that should have been granted the original. Instead of bringing the expected fuzz and fitting his peg neatly into the hole that's been assigned to him, he goes clean and melodic. It's a brave and commendable move.

Besides, Watch Me Fall is ultimately not that radical a departure from Jay Reatard's past work. Part of what made Blood Visions so potent was his gift for melody and tight song construction. He's simply brought these elements to the front while stripping back the noise. Guitars jangle instead of roar. Some songs could be called "pretty" without irony. If you didn't think Jay Reatard was capable of writing ace pop songs, you probably weren't listening that closely in the first place. The only thing that prevents the album from being a complete success is actually Jay's sharp voice, which is better suited for punk than pop. Even when he's trying to enrapture or soothe, he still sounds biting and sarcastic. But hey, at least he stays in key.

The final verdict? Well, it's not as good as Blood Visions but, honestly, few records are. Upon hearing an (illegally) downloaded version of Blood Visions back when it came out, I immediately left my apartment, got into my car and drove to the nearest record shop to purchase a concrete copy. It felt necessary. Watch Me Fall, by contrast, is merely pleasurable. Still, 33 minutes of pleasure is a lot more than most records provide.

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