At the time of his tragic death from an overdose in 2010, Jay Reatard was releasing jangly pop songs inspired by the likes of The Clean and Chris Knox. Though a sullen fatalism underpinned the slightly cheerful musical disposition of songs from 2009’s Watch Me Fall like “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” and “There Is No Sun,” Reatard appeared some distance removed, at least on record, from the bratty “Little Lord Punkleroy” moniker he had picked up years before. Yet there’s no question that the fury still lurked. And with their reissue in 2011 of the Reatards’ Teenage Hate, the fine folks at Goner took us back a decade plus to ground zero for all that rage. Now they’ve followed up with the Reatards’ second full-length, Grown Up, Fucked Up. Here, listeners can witness as Reatard begins to ever so slowly smooth out some of the rougher edges of what appeared on Teenage Hate and zero in on his skills as a songwriter. It’s truly exhilarating to listen.
For all the talk of punk breaking in the 1990s, by the close of that decade it was fairly tepid, as the poppy mall-sold version won the day while the early rumblings of the best-forgotten dance-punk revival surfaced in the distance. Few bands were really able to bring a hardcore punk spirit (as opposed to mere “hardcore,” but even that kind of sucked in those days, too) and also deliver the kind of trashy hooks that gave a term like “garage punk” some actual meaning. The Reatards, however, were a rousingly insolent reminder of how it was supposed to be done.
Fully digesting the Dixie grease that surrounded him growing up (there’s a cover of a song by King Louie’s Persuaders here and the sonic fingerprints of the Oblivians abound) and taking cues from first generations knuckleheads like Iggy (who he quotes on “No One Stands Me”), Stiv, and Lee Ving, Reatard goes nuts like a wild ocelot marking its territory and pissing all over the place. And while upon first listen one might think that songs such as “Sat. Night Suicide,” “Outta Our Way,” and “Who Are You” represent nothing more than a supremely angry teenager using punk as a way to puke out the poison, what one is in fact hearing is a blueprint of so much to come. Reartard’s ability to write concise hook-heavy punkers is one of the great musical slight of hands of the past decade, and dragging the songs through a sonic and emotional acid bath only added to their power.
You can hear the Reatards in nearly all subsequent Reatard projects—rom Lost Sounds through the Angry Angles and up to and including his solo work—not to mention in new bands such as Coneheads, The Achtungs, and Sick Thoughts, to name just a few. The sound is nearly ubiquitous in certain circles, but it bears repeating that Jay accomplished this breakthrough before he was 20. When one considers that he was making records like Watch Me Fall at the time of his death, it’s hard to imagine where all of the creative fury and furious creativity would have taken him next.