Minutemen - What Makes A Man
As I sit here trying to write this column for the "essential" series of this prestigious newsletter, I'm struggling to find a strong opening sentence. My failures have in turn led to this humble confession as the start. It's oddly very hard for me to put the right words together to describe something I truly love. My need to make every articulate detail I chose to focus on, shine with the same esteem and perfection that this record possesses, is somewhat stressful. How do you give an introduction to a band that needs no introduction? We all know the Minutemen, we all know they're brilliant. The power and influence that this incredible trio has on the punk and hardcore scene is staggering. They were a true testament to keeping one's own hard earned integrity, political views and creative approach to an otherwise often bland genre. One of the greatest American bands, without question.
So I'll just come out and say it, What Makes A Man Start Fires? is my favorite album. It has been for quite some time, and I know what you're thinking: why would this be my favorite record over the amazing, genre-classic double LP Double Nickles On The Dime? Obviously the glory and excellence of that record is irrefutable right? Well, while I can honestly admit that Double Nickles.. is probably a "better" album per se (the production, performance and songwriting on that record is top f-ing notch), I always end up suffering from listening fatigue as it goes on to the 3rd and 4th sides. It's a bloated record and perhaps there's a bit of excess fat that could be trimmed off that whole thing. I wouldn't take anything away from What Makes A Man Start Fires? From minute one, to minute twenty six, it is a flawless, inspired powerhouse that I can completely soak in.
It was my mission a long time ago to learn every single song on this album on bass. A task that I failed horribly at, naturally. This record is like a punk bass player's dream. Mike Watt's incredible talent and dexterity on the instrument is loud and proud. Every song on this album was mainly written by Watt, which is apparent in the very full, active, chord heavy and technical bass riffs. The roar of bass chords that kick off the opening track, "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs", sends chills down my spine every time.
It may seem weird describing a punk album as "technical", and have it not be a gripe. I would describe the Minutemen as punks that just got really, really good at their instruments. George Hurley's drumming is powerful, inventive, and consistently surprising and colorful. Always adding tight drum fills that hit hard and accent the songs perfectly. And then there’s the late, great D. Boon; a towering front man and a monster of a guitar player who combined the shrill tones and frantic noisiness of punk, with huge amounts of soul and free form expression. As a whole, they complement each other perfectly while mixing in a nearly overpowering amount of non-punk influences. Everything from the snappy, funk inspired bass lines, the blues and Americana tinged guitar solos and even touches of jazz (most notably on the track “Split Red”). In fact, there's only a few songs on What Makes A Man Start Fires? that ride the usual tempos and beats of a punk song. They took all of their influences very seriously and made everything coalesce into a sound that makes sense in sharp contrast to punk rocks’ normal, ironic appropriation of other genres like soul, disco or reggae. I fucking hate every single reggae song The Clash ever wrote.
The Minutemen were already on a very steady progression and allowed themselves to evolve and experiment within the realms of their already established band, in brave and inventive ways. This was the first album that had any songs break the dreaded two minute mark. They allowed themselves to become grander songwriters. It was also the first album to feature only D. Boon on lead vocals while featuring guest musicians (Joe Baiza of Saccharine Trust adds guitar on the tracks "Beacon Sighted Through The Fog" and "East Wind/Faith"). They were focused and determined to make a definitive album. Their hard work paid off in spades; they made a masterpiece. (VII)
Check out a track here.