When Jay Reatard shuffled off this mortal coil last year, the 29-year-old musician had already created a lasting legacy. With several dozen releases to his name, Reatard had already proved himself to be a lasting force in the pantheon of the rock underground, if not in life. While it was his work as a solo artist that had garnered the greatest popularity, the slabs he put out with the Lost Sounds and the Reatards were every bit as vital (if not more so) and showed the dynamism Reatard possessed throughout his all too short career.
The deluxe edition of Teenage Hate captures Reatard’s beginnings, not only because it is the Reatards’ debut record, but because the reissue also includes The Reatards and Fuck Elvis, Here’s the Reatards, two cassette-only releases Jay made on his own under the Reatards moniker before he recruited Steve Albundy and Elvis Wong and the band actually became a band.
All three of these releases were recorded when Jay was a still a teenager, but that’s not what is amazing about them. It’s that he emerge so complete, so wholly full of rock & roll spitfire. Listen to “Give It Me” on Reatards, and despite some anemic drumming, Jay’s like a feral cat just let out of the bag, fangs and claws bared. Even the low quality of Fuck Elvis can’t disguise the fact that even at a young age Reatard had digested the strains of punk, garage rock and blues running through his hometown of Memphis.
But anyone still needing convincing of Reatard’s ferocity only has to take one listen to Teenage Hate, originally released in 1998. On cuts like the leadoff “I’m So Gone” and the Reatards’ take on Fear’s “I Love Living in the City,” one can tell Jay would have been heading up a hardcore rejuvenation had he been born on one of the coasts. But backed by his own squawking guitar and Wong’s relaxed tempos, Reatard is obviously a product of Memphis and the heir apparent to Messrs. Cartwright, Yarber and Freidl, not to mention Evans and Howland, and Spencer, Bauer and Simins. “Memphis Blues” is perhaps the most quintessential song Reatard ever recorded, and the difference between the version on the eponymous cassette and the one on Teenage Hate is like night and, well, the hangover the next day. But even as skullbursting as “Memphis Blues” is, even it is surpassed by “Not Good Enough for You,” which lurches about like a drunk after his fill. It’s gritty and full of cathartic yowling, with the band getting all their ya-yas out at once.
Suffice to say, there was no one like Jay Reatard, and Teenage Hate reveals that he was damn near born that way. It might have been all down hill afterwards, but luckily Jay continued to reveal his genius in new and warped ways. He no doubt would have made a number great records in the years to come, but maybe we can take solace in the hope there’s some 13-year-old out there learning to play along to Teenage Hate as we speak.