Hyphenated Man – Mike Watt Review

When you approach a new project by legendary Minutemen/Firehose bassist Mike Watt, be prepared to enter the world of artistic idealism. The 51-year-old musician has released The Hyphenated Man, a collection of thirty songs that range from one minute to maybe two at the most. The story behind these songs is just as interesting as the album itself, but more on that later. Musically this project is more akin to the Minutemen than anything Watt has done since the passing fellow Minutemen D. Boon. High energy is one term but it would do a disservice to what’s really going on here. Imagine thirty songs where each song is made up of thirty songs and you begin to get the idea of Hyphenated Man.


What Watt’s done here, by his own admission, is create songs that are all the middle, as in each individual song sounds like the middle of another song. Then Watt layers in the multiple parts of each individual song and suddenly you have a project so dense, so compromised of mini-particles, that the very idea of it seems overwhelming.


That’s where Watt’s true genius emerges, his ability to take something so diverse, so bizarrely complex and groove it into a good time. You might get a headache thinking about Hyphenated Man but you’ll also be bopping to it. For me Watt is the closest thing in rock we have to a jazz musician, somebody who understands complexity and how to manage it into something that moves people on a gut level. Watt is calling Hyphenated Man an opera, but to me it’s more of a jazz epic.


Pulling the curtain back, the album gets that much deeper. Following the death of band mate D. Boon, Watt didn’t really listen to or focus on Minutemen material. Enter the documentary We Jam Econo, a gorgeously minimalist film telling the story of the Minutemen. Watt spent hours driving around, talking to the filmmakers and listening to old Minutemen songs. Reconciling with those tunes inspired him to create Hyphenated Man in the Minutemen style. Following that, Watt turned to his love of 16th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch to give him some story ideas. Hyphenated Man is a multi-faceted tribute to a 16th century painter as well as a reconciliation with the band that gave Watt everything and cost him his best friend. Like I said, when Mike Watt goes to work he brings his artistic A game.


Is this an album for everyone? No, because a lot of people won’t get it. Tragic hipsters will roll their eyes behind black glasses, sip Pabst Blue Ribbon and talk about how this is Watt trying to recreate the Minutemen. Others simply won’t understand the magic here, and all of that is very cool. Watt does what he does for him and invites us all to take the ride but understand that he’s driving. If you can do that, plus you like a little adventure to go with your rock, Hyphenated Man is going to be a must have for you.


It’s surprising to me that I keep finding them, but Watt’s new album is something that demands to be heard from start to finish. Imagine it as one of those pixilated pictures where if you stare at it long enough a ship appears. You can’t listen to anything here individually because it will ruin the whole of the picture. At forty-seven minutes for thirty songs, anybody who doesn’t want to listen all the way through really doesn’t deserve Hyphenated Man anyway.