Early word on Watch Me Fall, the first proper full-length from Jay Reatard since signing to Matador Records, is that it’s the most mature work he’s ever done, that it signals a massive change in his approach — from the youthful lo-fi punk of his early singles to a batch of songs that would have been at home on Rubber Soul. This is something of an exaggeration, of course. Jay Reatard has come to be known for an aggression that’s only occasionally shone through on record. His reputation has been earned more from his ear-splitting live shows, where songs are sped up until they’re barely recognizable. In reality, it would be doing his back catalogue a disservice to act as if it’s all just noisy, three-chord punk; he’s always had a deep respect for melody, and there was a musical playfulness always lurking just beneath the surface.
That said, it’s true that Watch Me Fall is the first Jay Reatard album where that playfulness takes center stage. As for how it happens, or why, it certainly has something to do with how it was recorded. One imagines he was working with a larger recording budget than he’d grown accustomed to, and it’s a veritable master’s course in how to improve fidelity without pissing off the people who liked you before you had access to decent studio.
Most songs clock in under three minutes, but they contain more parts than his older stuff, which could explain the accusations of maturity being thrown his way. This is also probably why Watch Me Fall is Jay Reatard’s finest moment: he’s always had problems incorporating more than a single thought into a song, which he would then harp on for a tiny bit too long. Jumping around a bit more is serving him quite well.
What he’s managed to maintain on Watch Me Fall, and what’s most impressive considering his recent success, is the self-doubt he’s been singing about for so long. He makes paranoia, disillusionment and loneliness sound inspiring rather than crippling. It’s not difficult to imagine a packed crowd at Webster Hall singing along to the last lines of the opening track: “All is lost, you can’t go home/All is lost, there is no hope for me.” One must be either very childish or very mature to recognize the beauty in singing those words along with a group of people. It’s not important which side Jay Reatard is on, as long as he’s not stuck in the middle. Which he isn’t.