In 1997, a popular British kids’ TV show called Bernard’s Watch chronicled the adventures of a young lad who possessed a magical pocket watch, which he could use to both stop and rewind time as he pleased. The ten year old would hop around town, pausing the world around him so that he could get to birthday parties on time (Bernard was forever late for everything), or afford himself longer to decide which lollies he fancied down the local corner shop.
In the space of three years, Jay Watson has toured the world multiple times over with both Tame Impala and POND, as well as help write and record the latter’s latest album. Amidst all this, Watson is about to release a fourth solo LP under his robust moniker GUM, which he recorded and mixed himself.
Somewhere in England, in a parallel universe maybe, Bernard is missing a magic pocket watch and is late for a dinner party.
Coruscant, assured, fun, and upbeat, The Underdog meanders through a variety of moods, changing course so often that the next beat remains forever unpredictable.
With The Underdog, fans of Perth’s illustrious psyche scene (which Kevin Parker assures is merely an amalgamation of ten pals who shared the same city for a brief spell) have a new instalment to feast on. Watson’s latest solo output is a familiar, but fine addition to the series.
Lead single The Blue Marble drifts through one of those dizzy, POND-y verses, brazenly aping Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd before plummeting into a sludgy, hook-driven chorus. The palpitating joint single S.I.A, which will give instant flashbacks to anyone who saw Chic and Nile Rodgers at Bluesfest last month, has plenty of that Soul Train strut.
Strings and syrupy guitar combine on Rehearsed in a Dream, a track that leans more on the David Gilmour-era Floyd. It’s a spooky ballad that could be, for many, the best song on the album. It is followed by Couldn’t See Passed My Ego, which pilfers its melody from the psych rock archives, but the production gives it a contemporary gloss.
It’s only really in the penultimate track that Watson begins to explore a sound that feels sincerely uncharted. With its synth washing over the line “Always trying my best to be good” on repeat, Trying My Best could soundtrack a UFO landing. Although, it feels like more of a brief stroll off the beaten track than a sign of what’s to come further down the road.
The Underdog projects Watson as an extrovert maker of new age pop, and someone who is comfortable filling the shoes of an entire band himself. However, according to the album’s press notes, Watson burned himself out. He would wake up in the mornings, battling with panic and anxiety, burdened with a ‘me against the world’ mentality, bestowed with both a gift and a curse.
Who can explain why people as talented as Watson wake up with that ‘less than’ feeling? Whatever the reason, he was able to grapple with it and turn a road blockage into a driving force. He describes The Underdog as “evoking that sensation of triumph and that weird parallel universe you get when the person that’s not supposed to win, does”.
On the title track, a line ends with a succinct and gallant statement: “Always go for the underdog, but someone’s in the way, and that’s not gonna change”.
Up next for Watson is a 12-date world tour as GUM, kicking off with five shows across Australia before rejoining POND for a mammoth run across the US. Then, with hardly any time to catch a breath, Tame Impala hit the festival circuit, presumably with Watson stage left, providing keys and backing vocals as he has done for nearly a decade.
His tireless devotion to creating and performing music is astonishing and, with or without a magic pocket watch, he continues to pull it off.
Wed 11 April – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Thurs 12 April – The Brightside, Brisbane
Wed 18 April – Masonic Lodge, Los Angeles
Thurs 19 April – The Independent, San Francisco
Sun 22 April – Baby’s All Right, Brooklyn
Tues 24 April – Oslo Hackney, London
Wed 25 April – Melkweg, Amsterdam
Thurs 26 April – Supersonic, Paris