American punk, after 1980 or so, had degenerated into post-adolescent whine and suburban angst. All that promise, blown
up or discarded, as angry young folks turned to jangle instead of thrash.
Then here comes Minutemen, a fine hardcore band who, on their third album, threw punk, free-jazz, James Joyce, funk, acoustic folk, leftist sensibility, melodic quirkiness, and crackling absurdist energy into the pot, mixed it up, and came up with what may be punk rock's most expansive statement.
45 songs, averaging about a minute and half each, precise, ragged shards that indicted and cajoled
Not just some minimalist gimmick or even the residue of creative efficiency, but a comment on the bloated nature of the state of mainstream rock music at that time, and the bloodless cultural ethos it ultimately represented.
(Note: The CD version, in an effort to get all the music on one disc, drops two songs, their cover of Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love", and "Mr. Robot's Holy Orders", the albums longest song, actually breaking the three-minute barrier. They did leave intact, however, the only other cover on the album, a grimy, smirking abridgment of Steely Dan's "Doctor Wu". The LP also boasts a brighter sound than the CD. It's time for SST, their label, to get off their duff and rectify this shit,, pronto)
D. Boon, who died in a car wreck less than two years after album's release, brought a bluesy guitar influence into the proceedings, a sound often at odds with his rock-ribbed love of punk rock, creating a jagged but emotionally charged style. He also brought a passionate political bent to the proceedings. Bassist Mike Watt brought a full and rich virtuosity, a thick sound that moved in perfect sync and melodic complement, as well as a dadaist streak that perfectly countered the band's rage. George Hurley was perhaps the finest drummer that punk rock had engendered, bringing a deftness and adaptability that tied the whole mess together as few other drummers could.
No goofy Mohawks or safety pins for these guys; punk rock, more for them than some of their American contemporaries, was pure expression and statement, not some affectation. Boon, chubby and wearing onstage whatever he happened to have worn that day (and these guys had day jobs), and Watt, leaner but no more fashion-savvy, eschewed rock star posing, in both sound and appearance. This is an album (and a band) of real passion, not bluster and well-crafted "product".
Double Nickels is a true masterpiece, an astounding burst of creativity, a barbed-wire collection that sounds as fresh now as it did then.