Blood Visions is undoubtedly the magnum opus of the questionably named Jay Reatard, real name James Lee Lindsey Jr.. It’s subversive, experimental and devilishly catchy. His untimely death in 2009 left the thriving Memphis punk scene devoid of one of its few genuine heroes, but his relatively undersized, albeit excellent discography has ensured that he left a mark. Jay was a lyrical virtuoso and a master at writing earworm riffs, of which there are no shortage of here.
I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic when I say this is one of the best rock albums of the past few decades. There’s so little to find fault with – it’s tightly tuned and perfectly paced, ensuring that there isn’t a single dull moment, from the thumping forward lurch of ‘My Shadow’ to the staccato ‘Greed, Money, Useless Children’. It’s a chunk of garage-punk perfection wrapped in a blanket of ear-splitting noise. Blood Visions can’t necessarily be described as a concept album, but Jay does paint a compelling picture of a man at breaking point across the album’s seemingly paltry 29-minutes. On ‘Death Is Forming’ we gaze into the tumultuous headspace of the album’s anti-hero protagonist – the warring voices weaving in and out of the mix obfuscate if he is howling the titular line or the more sinister ‘death is for me’. The oft-simplistic lyrics work heavily in the album’s favour, exhibiting emotions from love to murderous rage without ever feeling unwieldy or forced.
Jay’s profoundly cheesy faux-British accent manages to evoke Johnny Rotten at his best – before he became a Brexiteer, when times were simple. His strained, wavering vocals are practically bursting at the seams with acerbic frustration. Palm-muted, blazingly fast guitars provide a fitting accompaniment. ‘Turning Blue’ is the kind of thing that wouldn’t feel out of place in a teenager’s first skateboarding montage, with its riotous energy and mildly edgy lyricism. ‘Oh It’s Such A Shame’ transitions from a typical rapid punk song into what can only be described as speed-shoegaze, the distorted riffs suddenly beginning to loop and becoming drenched in layers of thick reverb as Jay maintains his unstoppable pace.
The closing track, ‘Waiting for Something’, is a gleeful sprint, which is odd for a song whose lyrics so accurately capture the essence of boredom. It slowly builds as Jay laments ‘sitting here waiting for something to happen’, before being jolted into action. It’s much like Big Black’s classic ‘Kerosene’- the abrasive-yet-accessible production of Blood Visions bears strong similarities to the work of their wunderkind Steve Albini. When the album finally closes with the sound of a studio door slamming shut, you’ll be wondering where the last half an hour went and left wanting more.
By Matthew Derwin – Music Writer