Memphis punk prodigy Jay "Reatard" Lindsey was only 29 when he passed away early last year, but was already a veteran recording artist with a deeper catalog and more artistic iterations than many better-known musicians twice his age. And this is where it started.
This reissue from the local Goner label packages Teenage Hate, Reatard's 1998 debut album (18 songs, 37 minutes) with a couple of previously cassette-only, home-recorded EPs (21 songs, 37 minutes).
Some of the formative cassette stuff was recorded with mentor Greg Cartwright (Oblivians, Reigning Sound) accompanying Reatard on drums and Jack "Oblivian" Yarber recording and mixing, with the third Oblivians member, Eric Friedl, releasing the music on his then-nascent Goner label.
Lindsey was 16 or 17 when the earliest music here was recorded — capturing his self-described "boredom, frustration, hope, and hopelessness" on tape for the first time. The cassette material is raw and erratic, but no more so than many other punk and hardcore touchstones, and exciting throughout. In a few cases there are initial takes on songs that would achieve more clarity on Teenage Hate.
Teenage Hate is Reatard playing with guys around his own age, with Elvis Wong on drums and Steve Albundy on another guitar. (The next and last Reatards album, the more confident Grown Up, Fucked Up, would feature a different lineup alongside Lindsey.) But it still bears an unmistakable Oblivians influence — garage-punk noise whose blues and early rock-and-roll foundation is palpable, often as much vocally as musically. The whole 39-song experience is the sound of a kid searching for his own voice by first mimicking and mastering his heroes. "When I Get Mad" and "Memphis Blues" ("Sitting in a bedroom wasting away my youth ... baby I got the Memphis blues") probably sound closer to the Oblivians than to any music Reatard would make past the age of 20. But you can also hear the future in an instant, with the bracing precision riffs and hardcore beats of Teenage Hate's opener setting up Reatard's naked plaint: "I'm so gone I ain't got no home."
In retrospect, the Reatards albums compare favorably to early Replacements albums such as Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, and Stink! — with a little less humor and a little more pain. As with those albums, which showcased a young Paul Westerberg, this is a snotty, formative snapshot of songwriter, performer, and (often one-man-) bandleader nailing a genre while giving hints that he would soon transcend it.
"I mean I don't wanna be a cliché of any sort but I'd rather smash you in the face than talk to you about the weather or anything else of no particular meaning to me," Lindsey wrote in notes to Teenage Hate. "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."
Lindsey had plenty to offer from the very beginning, some of which was indeed "hate and negativity in the form of rock n roll," but more of which was "restless energy and catharsis in the form of rock n roll." And things did change for him, but it wasn't magic. It was hard work, talent, and a willingness — apparent from this beginning — to investigate his own worst impulses even as he indulged them.
Though I'm sure there are some speed-and-volume addicts who would disagree, Lindsey's music kept getting better — more refined but also more perceptive and more durably musical — all the way until the end. But this testament confirms that he started in a pretty special place.
— Chris Herrington