Like his other two “rock operas,” as he describes them, Hyphenated-Man is autobiographical. The 1997 collection Contemplating the Engine Room used Watt's father’s Navy years as a parable for Watt’s own youth, while 2004’s The Second Man’s Middle Stand touched on his battle with a nearly fatal illness. The latest is a punky, impressionistic coming-to-terms-with-life album. The new material was inspired by his contributions to 2005’s Minuteman rockumentary, We Jam Econo, during which he had to listen to their music. He hadn’t revisited it since bandmate D. Boon’s 1985 death in a van accident closed that chapter. Now at 53, Watt has made an album in that spirit with 30 concise impressionistic blasts.
Like the initial conceptual impetus for the Minutemen, the songs are inspired by characters in Hieronymous Bosch paintings (“Arrow-Piereced-Egg-Man,” “Confused-Parts-Man”). As a child, Watt noted how Bosch’s paintings are comprised of many oddly psychedelic little characters that together comprise a whole. The idea influenced how Watt saw art and drove the Minutemen’s aesthetic. In this case the different men survey the varied expectations and roles we face in life.
Owing to his sense that he was covering the old Minutemen style, he put Hyphenated-Man together in an oddly deferential way. In Watt’s latest trio Missingmen, guitarist Tom Watson learned guitar based on Watt’s “palsied” demo tracks, and drummer Raul Morales worked out different drum patterns for each song, but they never played with Watt or heard the lyrics and music as a whole until they were in the studio. Minutemen fans will be enthused: It keenly captures the legendary band’s sound, from the jagged, scratchy guitar peals to limber contorting rhythms and lean elliptical poetry.
Indeed, it may be Watt’s finest musical endeavor since those halcyon days, and he’ll be playing the entire 47-minute album start-to-finish on the upcoming North American Hyphenated-Man Tour 2011. They hit the Pour House on Sun. March 27. Advance tickets are available for $10.