The Minutemen had already come up with a sound as distinctive as anything to come out of the American punk underground -- lean, fractured, and urgent -- with their debut album, 1981's The Punch Line. But on their second (relatively) long-player, What Makes a Man Start Fires?, the three dudes from Pedro opted to slow down their tempos a bit, and something remarkable happened -- the Minutemen revealed that they were writing really great songs, with a remarkable degree of stylistic diversity. If you were looking for three-chord blast, the Minutemen were still capable of delivering, as the opening cut proved (the hyper-anthemic "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs"), but there was just as much churning, minimalistic funk as punk bile in their sound (bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley were already a strikingly powerful and imaginative rhythm section), and D. Boon's guitar solos were the work of a man who could say a lot musically in a very short space of time. Leaping with confidence and agility between loud rants ("Split Red"), troubled meditations ("Plight"), and plainspoken addresses on the state of the world ("Mutiny in Jonestown"), the Minutemen were showing a maturity of vision that far outstripped most of their contemporaries and a musical intelligence that blended a startling sophistication with a street kid's passion for fast-and-loud. It says a lot about the Minutemen's growth that The Punch Line sounded like a great punk album, but a year later What Makes a Man Start Fires? sounded like a great album -- period.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming