Following up two viscerally powerful singles collections, Jay Reatard settles back into long-form with Watch Me Fall, an equally commanding album that settles on his best impulses (an edacious ear for variety, genre-hopping finesse and speed) while also neatening them up a bit. This is a process that was already beginning on Matador Singles ‘08, and one that Reatard has been inching toward since he began recording fierce bursts of frenetic punk-rock at the age of 18. That spirit of coarseness is maintained here, but it’s imbued with a wider focus and a mature sense of patience (there are no songs that clock in at less than two minutes). The hard, dirty edge that defined his songs in the past has receded into a secondary quality, which slows them down while also broadening their limits.
This progression a big step for the Reatard, and potentially a wise one, as the market is slowly becoming saturated with bands that lean heavily on druggy, bedraggled hipsterism imagery and oppressively messy distortion. Reatard has never really been part of this camp, closer in sound and mettle to friends like the Black Lips and King Khan than bands like Wavves or Times New Viking, but here he effectively cuts cords with both. Songs like “Fakin’ It,” with its vocal feints, affected accent, and marching-band percussion, slant closer to Britpop than punk.
Stepping into more spread-out compositions also shows the power of Reatard’s songwriting, already hinted at in an energetically steady output. But on Watch Me Fall, the emphasis is more on quality than quantity, a focused sense of attention which flowers here, each song brimming over with hooks. What the album lacks in grungy bite it makes up for in pop sensibility, with songs that, as a whole, are more controlled, mature, and catchy than anything he’s done before.