Unknown Instructors

The Way Things Work

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After the death of D. Boon in 1985, Mike Watt and George Hurley briefly considered continuing the Minutemen with friend and frequent collaborator Joe Baiza of Saccharine Trust and Universal Congress Of taking over on guitar. Watt and Hurley opted to form fIREHOSE with newcomer Ed Crawford instead, but 20 years later these three giants of the California art-punk scene have finally founded a new project together as members of the Unknown Instructors, an improvisational quartet with the musos accompanying poet and saxophonist Dan McGuire. By any standard, Baiza, Watt, and Hurley are a mighty combination, and the blend of Joe's sharp, angular guitar figures, Watt's thick but nimble basslines, and Hurley's splashy, adventurous percussion will remind anyone why these guys have long been revered by both fans and peers, but while their chops are in fine shape and their musical imagination is solid enough, the melodic structures they conjure up on the spot are not up to the standards of what Watt and Baiza have offered in the past. More importantly, Dan McGuire isn't the best collaborator this trio could have asked for; it's significant that the most memorable set of verses here, "Punk (Is Whatever We Made It to Be)," was cobbled together from the lyrics to a bunch of Minutemen songs, and though the life lived along the margins in "Starving Artists" communicates well enough, most of McGuire's wordplay is post-beatnik poesy that wears out its welcome before the tracks come to an end. The Way Things Work sadly never quite lives up to the promise of its contributors' past achievements, but there are enough moments of beauty and strength that one hopes these players will give it another try, perhaps with another lyricist on board. Is Jim Carroll doing anything these days?

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