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Mike Watt - Hyphenated-Man (Clenched Wrench)

Mike Watt Hyphenated-Man cover art
23 March 2011

Mike Watt is revisiting his past. Enough time has elapsed (26 years) since he lost D. Boon, his best friend, Minutemen band-mate, and musical foil. He’s comfortable looking back to those days for inspiration. “The man in the van with the bass in his hand” has played with a lot of different people since then, and if there’s a theme in his solo work it’s that each record is different than the one before. Now he’s come full circle with his band The Missingmen and returned to the guitar-bass-drums format from his youth. The guys in the band- Tom Watson on guitar and Raul Morales on drums- are a perfect fit. Hyphenated-Man is an exciting artistic achievement and, more importantly, it rocks.

It’s hard not to reference The Minutemen while talking about this record. Watt composed all the songs on D. Boon’s Fender Telecaster, after revisiting the Minutemen catalog while taking part in a documentary film. He ended up writing a bunch of short little songs that all get played together. A lot of them even sound like The Minutemen- choppy guitar lines and hyperkinetic drum fills, with enough breathing room to let Watt drive the bus with the thud staff. “Finger-Pointing-Man” and “Frying-Pan-Man” could be outtakes from Double Nickles On The Dime. But Hyphenated-Man is definitely not The Minutemen redux. The fire is still there, but the vitriol has been replaced with experience. Watt’s vocals are warm and gentle, like an old friend confiding secrets. But then every few songs he’ll get worked up into a holler. The lyrics are dense and filled with narrative with almost no repeating choruses, sometimes sounding like a beat poet. The guitar sound is thick and expressive, from a familiar waka-waka in “Stuffed-In-The-Drum-Man” to spirals of feedback in the Meat Puppets-like “Hollowed-Out-Man.”

Hyphenated-Man is an opera and The Missingmen are performing it as one extended piece on tour. This opera was inspired by the fantastic/nightmarish landscapes of Dutch Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch. Each song’s title, mood and story reflect a different character from one of his paintings. With 30 songs in 47 minutes, that’s a lot of characters. By the end I felt like I was stuck in some overcrowded Greyhound station and my bus just pulled in. This is the music that Jack White needed when he wanted the two sides of his brain to have a meeting. I think Bosch would approve. The best art is nothing if not inspirational, and this is a classic example of one true artist inspiring another.