Saturday, September 12, 2009

Making every moment matter - Minutemen "Double Nickels on the Dime"

As I understand it, the name "Minutemen" has nothing to do with that band's brief tracks (no less than 43 of them on their album Double Nickels on the Dime) but in fact comes from the Minutemen militia of the American revolution.

Both meanings have their place in understanding and appreciating this fabulous album, released in 1984. Its tracks are never more than two or three minutes long and every one of them, in its own way, seems to be spearheading a revolution - politically and musically, with aggressive songs that spew out their electric bile against convention and capitalism.

This is music of rebellion, coming to you from three amazingly accomplished musicians who learned their craft, it seems, not in conservatoriums of music, but in the garages and streets of the working class. This is what punk music is meant to be - music stripped of all its comfortable trappings: music that is angry, raw and battering you with a rage that is born in the clastrophobic confines of the underground.

And what music! On every track D Boon's wild and angry, almost jazz-like lead guitar does something amazing, blending with and against Mike Watt's funky, sometimes laid-back, sometimes frenetic, bass in a counterpoint that would make Bach drool. And its message is always underlined and driven home by the incredibly tight brute force of George Hurley's drums.

This is not music to relax to - it's not comfort music. It's music spiked with shards of broken glass - but glass broken only because it has been smashed in outrage at a world that is already bleeding to death anyway. Or at a world wallowing in its own middle class apathy and comfort, as we hear in songs such as "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing", or "The Roar of the Masses Could be Farts".

All of the songs are brief because this is not music that is about elaborating or adorning its ideas - it's about letting them rip, about living in the heat of the moment before it has a chance to cool down.

It would be tempting to talk about individual tracks here - like by drawing attention to the fantastic ostinato riffs in "The Glory of Man", or to the almost rock 'n' roll groove of "Corona", or to the percussive originality of "You Need the Glory", or to the punctuating bass drum in "Jesus and Tequila" ... but there's just too many amazing bits of music on this album, so I won't mention any of them. Not even the surprisingly gentle acoustic flow of "Cohesion".

The album starts with a car engine firing up and you are, indeed, in for one wild ride - and yet even that is part of the album's political message, apparently made in reaction to a song protesting the imposition of 55 mph speed limits in America. Minutemen are focussing the light of their protest on something much more important, much more revolutionary, than car speed limits.

So it's kind of fitting that the album finishes with "Three Car Jam" - a kind of jibe, perhaps, at the directions in which political battles are headed, if they're about the wrong things.

So get a copy of Double Nickels on the Dime, crank up both the volume and yourself, and then go out and let down the tyres of a really fast car - even if it has to be your own.

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