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Music Review: Mike Watt – Hyphenated-Man

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Hyphenated-Man certainly describes Mike Watt. In fact, the man is so hyphenated one wonders where to begin. Mike Watt – punk legend, Mike Watt – bass player extraordinaire, Mike Watt – founder of the Minutemen, the list could go on and on. Mike Watt – survivor, may be the most appropriate descriptive term. It is a phrase I doubt any of his famous fans (and the rest of us) would argue.

Watt’s new album, Hyphenated-Man, is his finest solo effort yet. It also seems to be a bit of a homage to the Minutemen’s most famous set, Double Nickels On The Dime.

Mike Watt’s 30-plus year career as a musician began in the late seventies, when he and best friend D Boon got together in their hometown of San Pedro, CA. After recruiting drummer George Hurley, the trio christened themselves the Minutemen. Their third album, Double Nickels On The Dime, was released in 1984. It was a double-LP containing 45 songs, from a wide variety of sources. Although it never garnered the kind of mass attention that Prince’s 1999 did, Double Nickels has steadily grown in critical stature over the years, and remains the band’s best seller.

One year later D Boon was killed in an auto accident, and the Minutemen were tragically over. Since 1985, Watt has remained active in music. He formed a new band, fIREHOSE with Hurley, recorded as a duo with Kira Roessler as Dos, toured as a member of The Stooges, and has four solo albums out now. Of all of these projects, Hyphenated-Man is the only one that seems to address the enduring legacy of Double Nickels On The Dime.

The similarities are pretty obvious. The single disc Hyphenated-Man contains 30 songs in total, all running around the two and a half minutes mark. Stylistically, the two recordings have a great deal in common as well. One of the reasons Double Nickels is so revered is the fact that it dabbled in so many genres – thought to be punk suicide back in the day. Hyphenated-Man takes a broad approach also.

Opening track “Arrow-Pierced-Egg-Man” references one of Watt’s acknowledged heroes, the late Captain Beefheart. In fact, he offers credible variations on the good Captain repeatedly. “Hammering-Castle-Bird-Man,” “Finger-Pointing-Man,” and “Thistle-Headed-Man” are but three more outstanding tracks that seem to invoke the spirit of Mr. Van Vliet.

There is much more territory to be explored on the album. Another “controversial” influence for rigid punk rockers in the early eighties was that of John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Watt remains an unabashed fan, most notably on “Hollowed-Out-Man.”

A number of other musical sounds are explored on the disc, including funk, country, spoken word, even a bit of jazz. A marked difference between Double Nickels and Hyphenated-Man is the fact that the former was simply a collection of songs, while the latter is referred to by Watt as a “punk opera.”

The inspiration is reportedly the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch, with each of the titles being Watt’s nickname for the surreal characters who inhabit Bosch’s world. The return to the short song format was inspired by Watt‘s work on the documentary of the Minutemen titled We Jam Econo. Both the film and Hyphenated-Man are reminders of just how talented this founder of So-Cal punk has always been.

 

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