As far as persona goes, this middle-school dropout from Memphis is as misanthropic and explosive as Iggy at his peak. But, as negative, bellicose, piss-drinking fuckups go, he certainly does work hard. Since the 1990s, he’s issued a steady stream of music under a confusing array of auspices, including the Reatards, Lost Sounds and Terror Visions. His 2007 solo album Blood Visions staked his considerable claim to the punk tradition that sounds like melodic, smart-assed ‘60s garage-rock LPs spun at 45 RPM. Toot sweet, he signed with Matador and released two collections of singles. Now, slightly ahead of schedule, we’ve got Watch Me Fall, a cleaner, more complex record, to be sure.
While his earlier work was compared to the Ramones, Husker Du and an avalanche, Watch Me Fall does not sound as though it’s at risk of falling apart. On “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me,” “Hang Them All” and “Can’t Do It Anymore,” he’s as fast, strident and bratty as ever. And yet, all of these, and much moreso the rest of the album, isn’t as noisy as before. It’s all clearly identifiable as pop. More than any other obvious spirit-of-’77 touchstone, Watch Me Fall recalls the Buzzcocks. The sneering cynicism never overrides the barely diffused melodic discipline. Brains trump brawn. Reatard doesn’t need to shout anymore.
Not coincidentally, Watch Me Fall exposes a much broader emotional range than his previous records. “I’m Watching You,” “My Reality” and “There Is No Sun” are as tuneful and poignant as the Byrds. He can still talk a grip of shit, but even “Rotten Mind,” in which the self-loathing and paranoia are as plain as a bad hangover, is delivered with the dignity and efficiency of a Big Star audition. Call it “poisoned bubblegum.”
The relative, uh, “maturity” of Watch Me Fall makes it less immediately striking than previous Reatardation, and it may be less enduring for it. It’s certainly tidy enough to turn off more than one regular Dusted reader, I’d guess. And, for better or worse, his mucho-affected glam vocals are as cartoonish as ever and significantly higher in the mix. But, for punks, edgy power-pop seems as though it’s one of the few long-term routes that isn’t a dead-end.