Teenage Hate/Fuck Elvis, Here’s the Reatards
Before his untimely death ended his career, Jay Reatard was on a roll, developing into one of indiedom’s best songwriters. As prolific as Robert Pollard but far more consistent, Reatard had honed his punk aggression into a weapon of pure efficiency, unleashing irresistible shotgun blasts of sound that were as dangerous as they were beautiful. Reatard’s last work, sadly also his first original album for Matador, the imperfect but ambitious Watch Me Fall, was a release that displayed a wider range of influences for the troubled punk than one might have originally inspected. So as interesting as it is in some ways to hear Reatard’s origins on Goner’s reissue of the Reatards’ Teenage Hate, it’s also a little boring.
Boring in the sense that we as listeners are burdened with hindsight, the knowledge of what Reatard would eventually become. Reatard never abandoned the danger of rock ‘n’ roll and he never quite stopped being a brat (right up to the ultimate brat move that was his death), but the figure of Reatard on Watch Me Fall – in terms of its gloomy cover art, posthumously unfortunate name and the tone of the music itself – is one of tightly wound focus. For all its other flaws, Watch Me Fall was a balanced record, a work that displayed the sweet and sour personality’s of Jay. Teenage Hate is simply exactly what it advertises- immature displeasure.
That’s not to say it is without worth or merit. Teenage Hate is full of horny energy, showcasing a band that uses tracks like “I’m So Gone” to broadcast their violent lust, a need to make and destroy. Part of that is likely due to Jay’s genre of choice on Teenage Hate, which isn’t the British punk and post-punk he’d dabble in come Watch Me Fall but instead the West Coast thrash of the Germs and the Weirdos and other California fuck-ups. The nasally snarl coating Jay’s delivery on “I Love Living” is full on Darby Crash, even as the guitars utilize the bendy, distorted-as-all fuck twang of Crime. “Stacey” takes a slightly different route, skewing towards Bay Area go-go poppiness and fist pumping sing-a-long choruses.
Some British punk influences appear later in the album, the guitar work on “You Fucked Up My Dreams” perhaps the most visible. “It Ain’t Me” likewise begins in a way that brings out some of the doom and gloom of punk legends the Damned. But those deviations are limited and the work suffers for it. The one mode Teenage Hate has – in the red, cock out, spit and bile and blood shooting forward – is a drain without the pacing and playfulness Reatard would later master. The welcome respite offered by the tracks that better reflect Reatard’s home town of Memphis, like the Flamin’ Groovies, ahem, groove of “When I Get Mad” (the best form of which comes in the bonus material) and the shitgaze 12-bar blues stylings of “Get the Fuck Outta My Home” aren’t quite enough to keep exhaustion from setting in.
Is that fitting for a figure like Reatard? In a way, yes. Is it a listening experience that is necessary for casual fans or folks wondering what the fuck the fuss is about? Not at all. Everything about Reatard may have made it clear he was going to go down in flames at some point but what Teenage Hate really proves is that it happened far too soon. The vast difference between where Reatard came from and where he eventually landed is sadness incarnate, proof that while Reatard may not have had the temptations and obstacles of his personal life under control, he had found a certain focus and stability in his music.
by Nick Hanover