Second full studio album for Memphis-residing garage rocker Jay Reatard picks up where last years singles compilation leaves off, with a tracklisting that sets sail on a river of bad tidings. Last time we saw Reatard, he was lying in a bath of his own records, now he’s Jack Nicholson in the final moments of The Shining, walking axe in hand through the snow-filled maze, wearing a similar frozen and deranged expression. At 12 songs and just over 30 minutes long, Reatard takes great pains to avoid labouring a songs point too much, preferring to be as direct and succinct as possible, shovelling melodies into a song as if he was shovelling dirt.
On first listen it feels as if Reatard has taken his song template from Rhino Record’s Poptopia compilation of 70’s power pop bands, replicating these 3 minute lush pop nuggets down to 2 minute bursts of punkish guitars, tambourines, organ and helium-filled melodies. Recorded at home in Memphis, Reatard exacts a jack-of-all-trades persona playing all of the instruments on the first half of the record himself, with regular touring drummer Billy Hayes adding his touch on a bunch of tracks on the second half.
Opener “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” hits like a bolt of lightning, lurching straight into the chorus with Reatard buoyant but bummed out, seething “I took a walk the other day/and thought about how things used to be/and then a cloud came in the sky/it shit on me and I don’t know why” and its sing-song “all is lost, there is no hope for me” coda. The gilded pop of “Before I Was Caught” with its jangle chords rides on top of a chugging rhythm track that sounds like it was stolen straight from The Undertones back catalogue. Whether or not this was Reatard’s intention, he’s somehow made a vintage pop album that bares no resemblance at all to the present.
Watch Me Fall is so steeped in the 70’s punk/power pop scene that when “I’m Watching You” arrives, stealing the acoustic guitar/drum intro from Nick Lowe’s 70’s hit “Cruel To Be Kind” you have to give him credit. The track itself a carry-over from last years barrage of 7″ singles, re-recorded here in a less stinging rendition, lyrically reminiscent of The Police’s stalker anthem “Every Breath You Take”. Elsewhere the see-sawing “Can’t Do It Anymore” and the shouty “Faking It” hit the snotty SoCal punk trail in a short-lived blaze of glory, recalling the full-frontal attack of Reatard’s stage show.
There’s a dynamic shift on the second half of the record where acoustic guitars and organ take over but the hyper-charged melodies still remain the album’s driving force. In Watch Me Fall Jay Reatard has made the musical equivalent of pop rocks and cola, and nothing but the dispossessed Cars vibe of “Nothing New” makes the album sound as disillusioned and bitter as the songs titles lead you to believe. Despite the overhanging gloom lurking in the tail end of the record with the new wave buzz of “Hang Them All” and the cello-accented sayonara “There Is No Sun”, Watch Me Fall is a perverse and punchy pop thrill.