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Reatards - Teenage Hate / Fuck Elvis Here’s The Reatards

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Artist: Reatards

Album: Teenage Hate / Fuck Elvis Here’s The Reatards

Label: Goner

Review date: May. 17, 2011

Can you call this juvenilia if the guy never stopped calling himself reatard? Maybe Jay Reatard’s earliest recordings were less distinctive than those at the end of his career, but his endless supply of bratty energy started here. It’s in all his subsequent recordings (probably — even as a dead man, it’s hard to sum up Jay’s career). For all the spitting and frowns that ran through his work, he didn’t appear to be on a path to self-destruction. There’s no hindsight hints. Songwriting was a medication that seemed to be working, regardless of whatever else he was putting in his system.

The incongruity of his stage name was starting to strain, as honed pop talent was carrying him beyond the voluntary handicaps of punk. It would have been delicious to see the ‘tard make a really big record just when we’ve got Palinistas who are uncharacteristically sensitive when it comes to that particular word (spelled correctly or not). Not that he was one for political confrontation. But as a bible belt kid who boot-strapped himself from high school dropout to self-employed success, you could hold him up as fine example of “real” American. Except he plowed all his capital back into inner-city hipsterism and petulant nihilism.

That’s all he wanted to do. This re-release of his first album and bedroom cassettes shows it’s about all he ever could imagine doing. For his 1998 note on the LP, he wrote, “On the brink of turning 18 I wonder if all I have to offer the world is hate and negativity in the form of rock n roll or if everything will just magically change with the years.” Everything did change, due to a hell of a lot of writing and touring. If he never did stray too far from negative rock ‘n’ roll, his joy in putting it together seeped through it all.

His first batch of ridiculously energetic songs — “Sick When I See,” “Heart of Chrome,” “Blew My Mind” — came on the second Reatards album, but the pieces the puzzle lined up on Teenage Hate. Even his earliest work is strong at balancing sounds with ideas — “Out of My Head, Into My Bed” gets down the pain of a crush in seven short words, winding up for that hook with some bubblegum babble that really makes it glow. He was already grasping the range you could get from cheap guitars; he tries crisp surf and rockabilly tones, something he never really explored again.

He plays with those conventions, too, hiccupping and crooning bluesy, lower than the nasal range he settled into. Verses spill over with bent notes and rootsy turn-arounds. Chalk this up to his shadowing the Oblivions around Memphis more than any attempt to tie himself with the city’s history. They infected him in the best possible way. Especially on the cassettes, you sense Jay’s amazement that he’s found his favorite band ever, and he can’t get over that they schlub around on the same sidewalks he’s stuck with, and he can approximate their queasy punk blues. He introduces songs with stage patter, insistent that the Reatards are a band, when it’s only him multi-tracking passes on guitar and paint-bucket percussion.

“C’Mon Over,” with three takes, provides the most insight to his methods. The final version is all about the revved-up riff the opens the song, where he invites you to “come on over, so I can kick your ass.” It’s made blunter by the “we can have some fun” chorus. Like he can’t decide if it’s a fight song or a love song. Compared to the cassette takes, it’s cruder and more rhythmic. The earliest version is satisfied with the brighter section. He was probably amazed that he could do anything catchy and pleasant, and it took a while to realize that the opening had the most force, and that the conventional parts work better as contrast. Capturing spontaneity can require multiple takes. What’s satisfying to play with your hands might not be what works best for the ears. While Teenage Hate sits squarely in the flamey-shirt scene of the ‘90s, even the greaser version of Jay knew how to bust up clichés.

It’s been redacted from the web, but in one of his last Blogspot posts, Jay berated a teen in his band for leaving the road to take advantage of a job promotion at Papa John’s. Mean-spirited, sure, but also dead on. The teen on display on Teenage Hate already knew what to choose when presented with two dead ends. For a guy who made a major fuck up at the end, he got a lot right.

By Ben Donnelly

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