With the release of their first full length album, 1981's The Punch Line
, the Minutemen established themselves as one of the leading hardcore/punk bands on the southern California punk scene. Their debut, The Punch Line
, was recorded very quickly and all in a one night session, and under little funds, which would almost make the album seem a little rushed. With their follow up album, the Minutemen would took a little more time and care into recording it. They took some time off after their first album, and began writing new material and songs; and then in the summer of 1982, the Minutemen would eventually find their way into the studio to make the album What Makes a Man Start Fires?
. This would be the most time that the band would spend on any album of theirs before it was released.
Most of the songs here were recorded in one night sessions; however there would be later sessions for slight guitar and vocal overdubbing for a cleaner sound or rather a less messy sound. For the first time, they used a second guitarist for the overdubbing but only on two songs. Joe Baiza lends help on Beacon Sighted Through Fog
and East Wind/Faith
. That is not to say that the album does not have a raw sound, because it does, and it is one of the band's trademarks. Like The Punch Line
, this one includes eighteen tracks, but the main difference is that these ones are noticeably longer in duration, which is better in my opinion. Even though their first album had eighteen songs like this one, only few would pass the one minute mark (hence the term Minutemen). On What Makes a Man Start Fires?
, there would be only one song that would be under the one minute plateau and three tracks over two minutes (seems short, but is actually long for a Minutemen song) which in total leads to about a twenty five minute album. By early 1983, What Makes a Man Start Fires?
was ready to be released.
Another note on the album is that guitarist D Boon takes lead vocals on every song, as oppose to The Punch Line
, where bassist Mike Watt had a number of songs where he sang solely. Mike does however; provide backing vocals on a number on tracks, in which he does well. Boon does a steady job on the lead vocal part. While he may not have the most talented vocal ability technically, his harsh voice suits the songs perfectly as he sings with power and intensity. As for the instruments on the album, Mike Watt is one of the most influential bassists in punk and this album begins to show why. In the majority of the songs the bass is a major highlight has Mike plays his raw and hard hitting, funky, deep bass lines. But that's not to take anything away from D Boon's guitar playing. Boon, although his skill weren't demonstrated to his full potential on the previous record, starts to show off his skills here in tracks such as Polarity
and The Only Minority
. He would later reach his full potential I think, on the 1984 masterpiece Double Nickels on the Dime. Drummer George Hurley also gives a solid performance in the rhythm department. His innovative drum lines make every song a bit better in which he shows on songs like Fake Contest
, Life As A Rehearsal
, and The Tin Roof
, which are just a small number of tracks that show his skills. As a whole, the band had great chemistry and all do well on their respective instruments.
Aside from their basic punk rock sound, in which often they are categorized under, they were so much more than that. Even from the earliest point of the band, they showed signs of jazz, country and blues and rhythm. They even furthered those here. Songs like Mutiny in Jonestown
and Pure Joy
show influences of funk, made mostly by Watt's basslines. Others like Polarity
give off signs of R&B with the very bluesy solos from Boon that open the song and remain consistent throughout. The guitar sounds like it could have been taken from an old classic rock song. The fifty four second Split Red
can be seen as an experimental track or a jam song. With verses of just Boon's voice over some distorted guitar makes for interesting listen and the song ends so quickly that you hardly have time to comprehend what you've just heard. But even with all these various musical styles coming together, it doesn't make them sound messy or disjointed, in fact they are put together nicely and still have a punk rock edge. Tracks like the album opener Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs
and One Chapter In A Book
show the bands straight forward ability to play simple punk rock songs, but still adding their own twist to it. The band's uniqueness shines through in practically every song.
Most of the song writing was done by D Boon and Mike Watt although Hurley does give a number of contributions on such tracks as East Wind/Faith
and Pure Joy
. The Minutemen have always been a band that were willing to share their views on things during their songs. That includes politics, injustice, or anything going on in social events. But they do not come off as just another political punk band, with the same repetitive lyrics. They incorporate humor in it and give the listener a more fun way or easier way to understand what message they are trying to get across, and most of the time it is clear what D Boon is saying. Songs like The Only Minority
show a political side as Boon sings "It's not black or white, brown or yellow, it's green with might; They own the land, we work the land, we fight their wars, they were ******"
. Other songs like The Anchor
take on a personal view from Mike as he sings about a dream he had. D and Mike show a poetic song writing style like in Plight where he sings "His face is young, hands are old; the past is empty, blind and cold"
, which is just a sample from the song that features some of the most lyrics on the album. Even though some songs don't have a lot of lyrics in them, they know how to get the point across in a short amount of words as well as a short amount of time.
Being that the songs are longer than before, they gives more time to get a good grasp of the song which makes for more memorable songs. The two minute+ songs here (East Wind/Faith
, The Anchor
) are all well done and show that they can still make good songs that that length. The Anchor
is my favorite from those three and also the longest at 2:33. It is built around George's quick drumming, and Mike's consistent and simple but effective bass work. Boon does give one of his best guitar solos on the record one this one as well. The album opener Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs
give an immediate feel of the album. The song isn't too complex lyrically as the chorus is basically the song title sung by Boon with changing tempos, but it shows the band's sense of humor, and it is meant actually as somewhat of a tribute to Dylan, who was an influence on Watt. The whole band gives a great effort from the opening bass line to the guitar solo. Other solid tracks from the album include This Road
and the exactly one minute The Only Minority
. This Road is one of the slower songs on the album, but just as good as the faster ones. The guitar lines that come in during the verses highlight the song. The Only Minority is a one minute track that compiles just everything that the band can put together: strong guitar solo, funky bass line and the signature vocals which make for a good minute. Plight is another one of the slower tracks, but not one that really stands out to me. However, the vocal part is done well out with backing vocals from Mike. Some personal favorites of mine include very short '99
, which gives an excellent vocal performance as well as guitar solo; and Mutiny In Jonestown
, where the bass makes this one a highlight. But the album closer, Polarity
, is a close contender of the best on the album in my opinion. As I mentioned before, the song starts as one big guitar solo, which almost serves as an interlude, until Watt's bass line plays over the quick drum rolls only to be taken over by Boons vocals. The song is loud, maybe a little messy at times, but a great way to end an excellent album.
The Minutemen's What Makes a Man Start Fires?
is an impressive sophomore album. It showed that they matured from writing 40-50 second songs to 1:30-2:00 minute songs and made the transmission smoothly. The next full length album from here would be the album that the Minutemen would most likely be remembered for; the 43 track Double Nickels on the Dime
. Even though the band's career was cut short in 1985 by the tragic loss of D Boon from an automobile accident, the Minutemen's legacy would live on and be an influence to many punk bands that followed them. And this album remains a key figure in the band's discography. The best buy to get the album would be to pick up the Post Mersh Volume 1 compilation, which includes this entire album along with The Punch Line
, because this album alone may be a little difficult to find.
Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs
Mutiny In Jonestown
One Chapter In A Book