A reputation as a brilliant live performer can be both a help and a hindrance sometimes. All your gig reviews are glowing eulogies that only outline your shortcomings on record, whilst your album reviews bemoan the fact that you’re unable to capture the magic from your live shows in the studio.
For a time it seemed Memphis-born cult hero Jay Reatard would fall foul to this problem. His raucous, often violent live shows overshadowed his musical output and the cherubic 28-year-old’s prolific output, having released nearly 30 albums with various bands since 1998, didn’t help either. The fact is you’d need an encyclopaedic mind and a large bank balance to keep up with his output in the first place.
Having signed to Matador a few years ago, Reatard has claimed he won’t be returning to any of his former bands, deciding instead to concentrate on his own solo efforts. Last year’s excellent singles compilation, the prosaically titled, Matador Singles ’08, finally proved that, yes, Reatard could harness the energy from his live shows, with highlights including the catchy buzzsaw riffs of See/Saw and Always Wanting More. Amongst the clattering guitars, thumping drums and tightly-wound melodies, there were numerous examples of Reatard’s way with a tune, with many songs containing delicious pop hooks and surprising moments of experimentation.
This sense of stepping out of his comfort zone is evident throughout Watch Me Fall. Sure, there are songs that are pure Reatard, chiefly It Ain’t Gonna Save Me’s brilliant shock of punk guitars, or Rotten Mind’s distorted surf pop. But elsewhere Reatard utilizes what is, for him at least, a Pandora’s box of musical instruments, from organs to a mandolin to a cello, creating three songs that stretch to almost four minutes. For Reatard that’s practically Pink Floyd territory.
Luckily he doesn’t just stretch the songs out or throw in extra instruments for their own sake. Each element is added for a reason, shown to best effect on the brilliant I’m Watching You, which is the kind of summery jangle that reminds the listener of The Bryds or even The Beatles. The closing A Whisper (There Is No Sun) is a beautiful three and a half minutes, featuring an echo-laden vocal, some shimmering percussion and a desolate coda: “For me, there is no sun”.
Elsewhere, Wounded features some excellent backing vocals, Can’t Do It Anymore rattles along in little over 90 seconds and Nothing New is almost a glam rocker. The whole thing whizzes by in just over half an hour, making it perfect for repeat listens. Reatard may not be for everyone’s taste, and some tracks do find him coasting along, but it’s an album bursting with confidence and energy. If you’ve got tickets to see him live then you’re in for a treat, but if not then this album will more then make up for it.