Minutemen Reviews

Read my reviews of albums by Minutemen:

1981: The Punch Line (???)

I have never heard the debut album of Minutemen. Read my reviews of albums released in 1981.

Minutemen releases from 1983:

What Makes a Man Start Fires? (9/10)

This is such a unique take on hardcore – if you can even call it hardcore, since it’s hardly loud enough or musically violent enough to qualify. It’s like something else. I see the descriptor “post punk” thrown around, which might fit, though Minutemen sound absolutely nothing like the British post punk bands (or the few American ones, either). If this is post-hardcore, as some claim, it’s the first record, which would make it a lot bigger deal than most of us seem to think it is. (Remember, Zen Arcade came out well after this record.) Whether or not it is the first post hardcore record is something I’m going to have to struggle with for a while. Anyway…

The songs are brief, like you would expect, and occasionally (but rarely) as noisy as songs by their contemporaries. Boon’s speak-singing really distinguishes them from the other punk bands but it’s Watt’s songs which are really out there, not really resembling anything else punk bands were making at the time. They are distinctly Watt (who I am familiar with through fIREHOSE and his solo work) but punkier.

It’s a hard one to wrap my head around: it’s not as immediately accessible as just about every other of the early ’80s punk bands that transitioned to something else (Husker, Replacements, etc), in part because Watt’s sense of melody is really not up to other songwriters’. But they’re so unique and original; I know on an intellectual level this is a big deal. I think I need to give it more time to come to love it.

This may well be the first ever post hardcore record; if it is, it deserves higher marks.

“Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat” (8/10)

For some reason I didn’t realize this was an EP, something that should have seemed obvious to me when it ended in under 16 minutes. But it’s hardcore, right? “Albums” are really short.

I love how this band plays around with genre – like basically nobody else among the early hardcore bands they don’t seem to care what punk is supposed to sound like. And that is so damn refreshing in a scene that (still) polices your credentials.

Good band. Watt is the best bass player to come out of the scene. Also, Boon was an underrated guitarist. (Though hardly underrated by Watt, who I feel like talks about him to this day literally every chance he gets.)

I’d rate it higher but it’s pretty slight compared to their records.

Read my reviews of music from 1983.

Minutemen albums from 1984:

The Politics of Time (???)

Double Nickels on the Dime (9/10)

The Minutemen’s magnum opus is really a magnum opus, coming in at a fairly ridiculous 45 tracks in 81 minutes. (That runtime is longer than Zen Arcade by over 10 minutes…) The band basically admits they included virtually everything they had, dubbing the final side “Chaff”. This is supposed to be a record by a hardcore punk band.

That’s the point though; this band of all hardcore bands of the era was never going to let “punk” define them, and here they do their best to demonstrate that it cannot. This is one of the most sprawling albums ever to be released by a band which has been described as “punk” (at least before that word ceased to mean anything). And it is just an avalanche of material, musical ideas, in-jokes – try to figure out what the album title means! – and covers.

Some of it works about as well as any Minutemen material I have heard – often funky, almost always unconventional and playing with your expectations (musically and lyrically), regularly provocative and sometimes funny. “Some of it” might not be fair. A lot of it works. Most of it perhaps.

But the problem is that there is so much here and they were not wrong in admitting that not all of this material probably deserved a release (as anything other than on rarities compilations). It’s hard to know what to do with the filler but that last side in particular, which brings up the sequencing. Why did they put all (or most of) the songs they thought were throwaways at the end? Wouldn’t you think nobody would listen to that part? (Especially on vinyl!)

My #5 album of 1984.

Read my

But I worry I am sounding too critical. This is still a ridiculously bold statement from a band trying and succeeding to destroy unnecessary, (often) self-imposed genre conventions and doing a great job of it. Even the covers, which are often totally unnecessary, show how irreverent they are, and how little concern they have for whether or not some critic for fan thinks they are “punk” enough.

Part of the joy in kitchen sink albums is experiencing everything, not just the most successful stuff. I do think there is fun even in some of the throwaways but I do wish they would have sequenced the thing better.

That being said, this is still part of the death-knell for hardcore and one of the foundational documents of post hardcore (and alternative rock, really).

Read my reviews of 1984 albums.

1985: 3-Way Tie for Last (8/10)

I have come to the Minutemen completely backwards. I have been a fIREHOSE fan for quite some time but am only now getting to the point of listening to these guys and of course I listen to their last album…

Anyway, this is a set of rock songs (and song fragments) that varies from righteous anger about US politics to reflections on the nature of story-telling, with a bunch of covers (from literally all over the place). The music is pretty typical post-hardcore with the kind of silly, mild experimentation that makes so much American ’80s alternative music great.

Though these guys are serious, they’re fun. And they don’t see the boundaries that tradition has erected.

Good stuff.

Read my reviews of albums from 1985.