Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Minutemen: One Reporter's Opinion

The Essential The Rest
Double Nickels on the Dime
Post-Mersh, Vol. 1
Post-Mersh, Vol. 2
Post-Mersh, Vol. 3
3-Way Tie For Last
Ballot Result

The Essential

Double Nickels on the Dime (1984, SST 028)

With their third LP, Double Nickels on the Dime, the Minutemen announced to anyone who was listening that they had arrived. As the most punk rock 'n roll band in the world, or possibly the most un-punk punk rock band, the Minutemen once again defies stereotype. One minute they're "jamming econo," bashing away at two chords; while the next minute they're grooving through one of their quasi-funk numbers at dangerous speeds.

The one constant on the album, though, is the band's playing. The Minutemen had grown rhythmically tight: D. Boon's staccato, heavily-muted guitar playing complements Mike Watt's stratospheric, funky basslines and George Hurley's jazz-like drumming perfectly.

Released as a two record set in 1984, partially in response to Husker Du's Zen Arcade, the Double Nickels on the Dime CD has an astonishing 43 songs. All of which feature surprisingly even songwriting, considering the heft of the ambitious project.

It's clear that the band's roots are planted in late-70s, early-80s punk rock, but that doesn't stop the band from stretching out on this release. The result is one schizophrenic listening experience which finds the boys from San Pedro, CA experimenting more and more with rock-oriented song structures (verse, chorus, verse), rather than the poetry readings put to hyper-speed rhythms they had favored in the past. For example, listen to their legitimate covers of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Don't Look Now," Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" (vinyl only), and their hilarious cover of Steely Dan's "Dr. Wu."

Also, Double Nickels on the Dime finds Boon assuming more vocal duties than in the past, where singing had been more evenly divided between he and Watt.

HIGHLIGHTS: The insanely funky (for a white trio) "Theatre is the Life of You" and "Viet Nam." The D. Boon- sung caustic gems "It's Expected I'm Gone," "#1 Hit Song," "Shit From an Old Notebook," "One Reporer's Opinion," "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing," "The Big Foist," "This Ain't No Picnic" and "God Bows to Math." The gorgeous ballad "History Lesson - Part II." The comically absurd Mike Watt songs "Take 5, D." and "Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth?."

LOWLIGHTS: None -- the album is very consistent. Weaker songs are easily forgiven as they, like all Minutemen songs, are extremely brief.


Post-Mersh, Vol. 1 (1987, SST 138)

Post-Mersh, Vol. 1 collects the Minutemen's first two LPs on one CD, 1981's The Punch Line, and 1983's What Makes a Man Start Fires?.

The Punch Line is a true punk masterpiece, realizing the potential of Paranoid Time (1980) and locking the band's formula in place. D. Boon's frenzied strumming and high chord voicings take a back seat to Mike Watt's omnipresent bass. In fact, the Minutemen's musical presentation was quite unique, almost refined, for a punk band -- and a far cry from accepted hardcore norms. The rhythm section dominates the album, accentuating the songs' mindful, overtly political lyrics, which often destroyed myths ("The Punch Line") or attacked the American dream ("The Struggle," "Disguises") in the process.

Clearly the weaker of two albums, What Makes a Man Start Fires? lacks the urgency or intensity of The Punch Line. Some of the rough edges that made previous Minutemen records so invigorating have been smoothed. A few songs on What Makes a Man Start Fires? feature slowed-down, run-of-the-mill tempos that make typical-sounding Minutemen songs sound atypical. While many other songs are simply too lenghthy. Also, by changing musical directions, Watt and Boon have been bound by convention, severely handcuffing their creative faculties.

In all honesty, it's difficult to pinpoint the reasons why What Makes a Man Start Fires? is so lackluster. It just doesn't move like other Minutemen records. Many of the album's songs, however, are among the band's finest and the album's lyrics are consistently good, as usual.

HIGHLIGHTS: "Search," "Tension," "Ruins," "The Punch Line," "Fanatics" and "History Lesson" from The Punch Line. "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs," "Life as a Rehearsal," "One Chapter in the Book," "Fake Contest" and "'99" from What Makes a Man Start Fires?.

LOWLIGHTS: Too many mediocre songs bog down the middle and end of What Makes a Man Start Fires? ("East Wind/Faith," "The Anchor," "Sell or be Sold," "Split Red," "Plight").


Post-Mersh, Vol. 2 (1987, SST 139)

The EPs Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat (1983) and Project: Mersh (1985) are both included on Post-Mersh, Vol. 2.

Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat, an 8-song EP, finds the Minutemen returning to form after the subpar What Makes a Man Start Fires?. The frenzied, haphazard-yet-calculated rhythms that distinguished early Minutemen material has returned. Now, however, the band does not rely solely on brevity and speed to make an impact. Instead, song dynamics are tastefully applied throughout, allowing the songs room to breathe. One reason for the shift may be the improved, more confident guitar playing of D. Boon, as he now shares the spotlight with bass-master Mike Watt. Indeed, good things were in store for the Minutemen, as their magnum opus, Double Nickels on the Dime, was mere months away.

Project: Mersh, on the other hand, has the unenviable task of following Double Nickels on the Dime. A tongue-in-cheek stab at radio-friendly rock, the EP is a far cry from Paranoid Time or The Punch Line musically, but stylistically the band maintains its integrity, sharp wit and genuine originality. Mersh, slang for commercial, doesn't translate into lyrical fluffiness, though, even with the music sonically less jarring and downright friendly. The Minutemen's six songs cover topics ranging from political abuses of power ("The Cheerleaders," "King of the Hill") to bizarre autobiographical tales ("Tour Spiel").

HIGHLIGHTS: The blazing, quasi-philosophical "Self-Referenced," "Cut," "Dream Told by Moto" and "The Product"; funk/punk gems "I Felt Like a Gringo" and "Little Man with a Gun in his Hand" from Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat. "King of the Hill" and "Tour Spiel" from Project: Mersh.

LOWLIGHTS: Buzz or Howl is not long enough. "More-Spiel" from Project: Mersh is monotonous and one of the worst Minutemen songs committed to record.


Post-Mersh, Vol. 3 (1989, SST 165)

Post-Mersh, Vol. 3, the most extensive album of the trilogy, compiles the Minutemen's 1980 debut EP Paranoid Time, the EPs Bean Spill (1982) and Tour Spiel (1985), the Joy single (1981), and the 1984 LP The Politics of Time.

Paranoid Time features seven songs that are as precise as they are concise. Clocking in at 6 minutes and 31 seconds, the EP is a commemoration of early-eithties hardcore dogma and Cold War-era anxieties. The songs are brief, yes, but unbelievably coherent and even (gasp!) a bit catchy.

The Joy single features three songs, "Joy," "Black Sheep," and "More Joy," that were most likely recorded on the road or Paranoid Time outtakes. As such, the songs are hardly prime Minutemen material, though they do satisfy completist means. On the other hand, five very strong songs comprise the Bean Spill EP, which finds the band thriving in their bass-heavy, near-improvisational, syncopated funk setting.

As an album collecting the band's early unreleased material, The Politics of Time exposes a veratible goldmine of good songs. The first half of the album is devoted to standard fare Minutemen tracks -- funky-as-hell and sociopolitically-aware -- while the second half consists of live, pre-Minutemen (Reactionaries) material, featuring saxophonist/vocalist Michael Tamburovich. While the sound quality isn't the best, the songs are still exhilarating for the same reasons Minutemen songs are -- they're honest, aggressive, often humorous, and always sharp.

With Tour Spiel, the Minutemen honor their favorite rock stars by offering torrid covers of their songs. All four interpretations are invigorting: from the choleric bridge section of Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love," to the smoking version of Blue Oyster Cult's "The Red and the Black," to the faithful covers of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Green River" and the Meat Puppets' "Lost."

HIGHLIGHTS: "Validation," "Sickles and Hammers," "Fascist," "Joe McCarthy's Ghost" and "Paranoid Chant" from Paranoid Time. "If Reagan Played Disco," "Afternoons" and "Futurism Restated" from Bean Spill. "Shit You Hear at Parties," "Party with Me Punker," "Big Lounge Scene" plus a handful of live cuts from The Politics of Time. The groove-happy cover of "The Red and the Black" from Tour Spiel.

LOWLIGHTS: The Joy single. Some tracks on The Politics of Time would be best left unreleased.


The Rest

3-Way Tie (For Last) (1985, SST 058)

As the last album before D. Boon's tragic death in a car accident, 3-Way Tie (For Last) is more effective as a valediction than anything else. The Minutemen seem far detached from their boisterous early days, as the band now follows the lead of their precedent-setting Project: Mersh album. That is, the songs are less abrasive and more listerner-friendly than past Minutemen efforts. Though no commercial radio station would touch them in 1985, modern rock radio today would most likely embrace 3-Way Tie material.

HIGHLIGHTS: Their cover of "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?," the third Creedence Clearwater Revival cover committed to record. Boon's "Price of Paradise," "The Big Stick" and "Courage." Watt's "Spoken Word Piece."

LOWLIGHTS: The newfangled "No One." The studio versions of Blue Oyster Cult's "The Red and the Black" and the Meat Puppets' "Lost" aren't as good as the live ones found on Tour Spiel. The album's closer "Bermuda."


Ballot Result (1987, SST 068)

A collection of fan ballots literally decided the makeup of Ballot Result, the Minutemen's sole live album, released posthumously in 1987. Ballots placed in copies of 3-Way Tie (For Last) asked fans to choose their three favorite Minutemen tracks for a live album, tentatively titled 3 Dudes/6 Sides/3 Studio/3 Live. Of course, D. Boon's death halted the project, but his surviving bandmates went ahead and tabulated the votes. The resulting album covers every phase of the band's career, highlighting some of the best songs in the Minutemen canon. The performances too are top notch -- no small feat, given the deceptive complexity of their songs -- even when the sound quality isn't.

HIGHLIGHTS: "Little Man with a Gun in His Hand," "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing," "I Felt Like a Gringo," "Jesus and Tequila," "Ack Ack Ack," "History Lesson - Part II," "This Ain't No Picnic," "Cut," "Shit You Hear at Parties," "Tour Spiel" and "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs."

LOWLIGHTS: The tedious and over-long "No One," "Mr. Robot's Holy Orders" and "Hell." The sound quality of the closing tracks.


Return to my Minutemen page

All Minutemen album reviews by Matthew Eddy 3/99.