"I got it! We'll have them write hit songs!" some nameless record company executive says in the cover painting to the Minutemen's 1985 EP Project Mersh, and that joke covers about half of the record's formula. While the Minutemen had been writing more melodic and approachable songs with each release, the massive barrage of 90-to-180-second songs on the epic Double Nickels on the Dime was at once an embarrassment of riches and a bit much for a casual listener to chew on. So for this tongue-in-cheek experiment in making a "commercial" (or "mersh") recording, D. Boon and Mike Watt wrote a few actual three-minute-plus rock tunes, complete with verses and choruses and melodic hooks. On top of that, the band made a game stab at cleaning up their act in the studio; while hardly on the level of something Bob Ezrin or Richard Perry would come up with, Project Mersh boasts a good bit more polish than anything the band had released up to that point and even featured horn overdubs and keyboards on a few tracks. But the punch line was that the Minutemen had used all this fancy window dressing on songs that weren't all that different from what they'd been doing all along -- "The Cheerleaders" and "King of the Hill" are typically intelligent, clear-eyed polemics from Boon, and Watt's "Tour-Spiel" is one punker's bitterly funny ode to life on the road (it stands comfortably beside their cover of Steppenwolf's variation on the same theme, "Hey Lawdy Mama"). While the Minutemen were a band that followed their own creative path from the beginning to the end, Project Mersh made clear they could have followed a more easily traveled road and still made good music with plenty to say.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming