Mike Watt

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Ball-hog Or Tugboat?

Mike Watt - Ball-hog Or Tugboat? ©1995 Columbia
1. Big Train
2. Against The 70's
3. Drove Up From Pedro
4. Piss-bottle Man
5. Chinese Firedrill
6. Intense Song For Madonna To Sing
7. Tuff Gnarl
8. Sexual Military Dynamics
9. Max And Wells
10. E-ticket Ride
11. Forever--one Reporter's Opinion
12. Song For Igor
13. Tell 'em Boy!
14. Sidemouse Advice
15. Heartbeat
16. Maggot Brain
17. Coincidence Is Either Hit Or Miss

In one of the more unusual moves for a man releasing his first solo album after a decade and a half in two wonderful trios (Minutemen and fIREHOSE), Mike Watt assembled a cast of nearly fifty people to perform on Ball-hog or Tugboat?. The credits roll like a veritable who's who of alternative rock, ranging from more obscure folks like Epic Soundtracks to more well known individuals such as Eddie Veddar, Flea and Thurston Moore. As expected with this sort of undertaking, the results are a bit uneven and inconsistent throughout the album as a whole. Each individual song, taken entirely by itself, is not bad at all, with some being better than others. However, rather than be a cohesive album, the record comes off more as a compilation with Watt's bass playing being the only tying thread. Among the better tracks is "Against the 70s", which features Veddar. Regardless of my indifference towards Pearl Jam, there is a reason why Veddar is credited with being one of the most talented vocalists of the 90s. The man has great pipes. "Chinese Firedrill" features one of my favorite singers, Frank Black, and is a very quiet, slow track. "Sexual Military Dynamics" is a crunching number with Henry Rollins barking out the commands. Of the more loungey, jazzy material, "Sidemouse Advice" (featuring Flea on trumpet rather than bass) is a great little number and other songs feature a bit of a jazz/improve feel. On the ironic side of things, "Maggot Brain" is a long, extended J Mascis guitar solo, which is amusing considering this is a bass musician's solo record.

The main problem is that the urge to hit the skip button is huge every time this CD goes on. While you have to credit Watt for getting together this project and pulling it off, hopefully it is an experiment that will only see the light of day once. Tip the hat and move on, please.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2000

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Contemplating The Engine Room

Mike Watt - Contemplating The Engine Room ©1997 Columbia
1. In The Engine Room
2. Red Bluff
3. The Bluejackets' Manual
4. Pedro Bound!
5. The Boilerman
6. Black Gang Coffee
7. Topsiders
8. No One Says Old Man (to The Old Man)
9. Fireman Hurley
10. Liberty Calls!
11. In The Bunk Room/Navy Wife
12. Crossing The Equator
13. Breaking The Choke Hold
14. Wrapped Around The Screw
15. Shore Duty

I have been flogging myself with a switch wrapped in barbed wire for not getting this sooner. I kinda blame it on the fact that Columbia Records charges seventeen bucks for this new and being that poor guy on a serious budget, the sticker price was a real turn-off. But anyhow, after catching Watt performing this album live in Boulder, Colorado, last May, the album suddenly became a priority buy.

Simply put, this is the most definitive thing Watt has done since the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime. Watt was explaining to a fan after the Boulder show that this piece is a bit of an analogy of his experiences with his previous bands, his pop, and D. Boon. The concept was not to make it a documentary but something that extends to a wider reach of people, something we can all relate to. And honesty, having just lost my own father a few weeks ago, there are some extremely poignant lyrics. The music is beyond description. You could call it a celebration of the trio, with guitar, bass and drums all having their proper place and interaction with one another. Watt's bass playing tends to act more as an anchor rather than taking the forefront. Stephen Hodges' drumming locks in precisely with the bass while Nels Cline goes to town on some seriously wild guitar playing throughout. As the album progresses to the latter half of the album, the arrangements become looser and looser, allowing for some pretty bizarre but inspiring playing to take place. Possibly the most notable thing (at least for me) is that Watt does all the singing throughout. In the past, I haven't been entirely the biggest fan of Watt's vocals, but for this particular piece of work, his dry voice fits perfectly.

Perhaps the only downfall to this album is that I am listening to it after hearing the live performance, which had Bob Lee on drums and the incomparable Joe Baiza (Sacharrine Trust, The Universal Congress of) on guitar. The trio had played the set to a point where improvisation and their interplay had elevated the album to godlike status. To have a copy of that wonderful night in Boulder on tape would be a dream come true. But getting back to what is at hand, this is a piece of that redefines who Watt is and his place in the books. Hopefully this is Watt had hoped to create when he sat down to write the album as it is a very touching and sweeping record.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/1998

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