Mike Watt is a guy who thinks a lot about his music; some musicians are content to come up with a dozen or so worthwhile songs, record them, and leave it at that, but each of Watt's solo efforts have been governed by some overriding concept or narrative, and while he's a man who avoids pretension at every turn, each of his albums have been literate, challenging, and imaginative, and 2010's Hyphenated-Man is no exception. Watt's previous two solo efforts, 1997's Contemplating the Engine Room and 2004's The Secondman's Middle Stand were "punk operas" where the songs followed a consistent narrative and thematic line, but Hyphenated-Man instead takes the form of 30 short bursts of music and thought, each reflecting another facet of the overactive mind of the man singing and playing bass. The two longest songs here clock in at just 2:04, and none of the others even crack the two-minute mark. Between the barrage of short songs and the frequently sharp report of Tom Watson's guitar and Raul Morales' drums, Hyphenated-Man recalls Watt's work in the Minutemen more than anything else he's done since the band's breakup, particularly the early hyperactive blur of The Punch Line and What Makes a Man Start Fires? However, while Hyphenated-Man recalls the same mindset that helped create the early Minutemen material, the perspective on this album is relentlessly inward, as Watt confronts his failings, anxieties, and obsessions in tiny musical journal entries that coalesce into a window into one man's inner chaos. Anyone looking for clear and easily read insights into the life and thoughts of Mike Watt is going to be mighty disappointed with Hyphenated-Man, but as befits the man who once wrote "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs," like Mr. Zimmerman Watt's songs here communicate a great deal in terms of mood and emotion, even if they don't readily scan in terms of narrative flow. And as always, Watt is a musician with a rare gift for interacting with other players, and with Watson and Morales he's approached the philosophy and attack of the Minutemen while giving this material a sound and structural logic of its own (particularly in the willingness of these songs to slow down and explore their inner workings). Hyphenated-Man demands more from its audience than most music, but given how much thought went into it, that's only fair, and in his fifth decade, Watt's music is no less ambitious or brave than it was in his youth, and for all the inner rumblings of Hyphenated-Man, the final product reflects an agile and active mind that's not about to stop confronting anyone with the courage to listen.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming