Mike Watt - The Secondman's Middle Stand (Cover Artwork)

Mike Watt

Mike Watt: The Secondman's Middle StandThe Secondman's Middle Stand (2004)
Sony Music

Reviewer Rating: 5

Contributed by: cjmarsicanoCJ Marsicano
(others by this writer | submit your own)

Mike Watt has always made references to his own life and those he holds dear in his vast catalog of songs since the days of the Minutemen. "History Lesson Part II" from the Minutemen's classic Double Nickels On The Dime album comes immediately to mind; fIREHOSE tracks like "Me And You, Rememberin'" .
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Mike Watt has always made references to his own life and those he holds dear in his vast catalog of songs since the days of the Minutemen. "History Lesson Part II" from the Minutemen's classic Double Nickels On The Dime album comes immediately to mind; fIREHOSE tracks like "Me And You, Rememberin'" and "Disciples Of The 3-Way", and "Piss-Bottle Man" from his first solo album, 1995's Ball-Hog And Tugboat would also be good examples of this. He's also made reference to many favorite works of literature in his songs ("June 16th" from Double Nickels refers to 'Bloomsday', the day James Joyce's Ulysses takes place.)

With his second solo album, 1997's brilliant Contemplating The Engine Room, he took his non-egotistical self-referencing and his literary influences a step further by writing a punk rock opera in which he parallels the stories of his father's Navy days with the history of the Minutemen and a Sand Pebbles-inspired storyline about "three guys in a boat" traveling the world. After touring behind Engine Room for a year, Watt almost never got a chance to follow the album up. A misdiagnosed infection in his purenium (the area behind a man's testicles) became an abcess and almost killed him in January of 2000, requiring emergency surgery. After being laid up for almost ten weeks, unable to play, Watt endeavored to rebuild his chops, using classic Stooges songs as a launching pad. This particular story is now the basis for Watt's long-awaited third solo album, The Secondmen's Middle Stand.

Like Engine Room before it, The Secondmen's Middle Stand is a punk rock opera, and is partially inspired and paralled with a favorite Watt piece of classic literature, Dante's Divine Comedy. Unlike its predecessor, however, TSMS is wholly autobiographical. The album's nine songs are divided into three sections of three songs each, similar to the Dante book -- "Hell", "Purgatory", and "Heaven". No, Watt hasn't gone religious. Instead, "Hell" for Watt was the month-long illness up to and including the bursting of the abcess that almost killed him, "Purgatory" was the surgery, hospital stay, and subsequent rehabilitation and recovery, and "Heaven" was getting to step out of the house, play bass, ride his bike, and paddle his kayak again.

Musically, TSMS is performed by a three piece unit with Watt on bass and two San Pedro musicians (for the first time since the demise of the Minutemen) - drummer Jerry Trebotic and organist/backing vocalist Pete Mazich, who make up one of Watt's many post-fIREHOSE trios, The Secondmen. On the album, they are supplemented with backing vocals from ex-That Dog member Petra Haden. The nine songs on TSMS are Watt's most complex to date, but they're still punk in spirit.

"Boilin' Blazes" kickstarts the album (and the opening "Hell" section) with a few seconds of Watt bass before the entire band kicks in, as Watt - his singing voice delibrately showing the stress and anxiety he endured during the actual illness - tells his first-person tale over soaring, almost Rick Wakeman-esque organ chord clusters from Mazich. "Puked To High Heaven" follows; this time, Watt, Mazich and Haden bring a church-like feel to the proceedings. "Burstedman" follows with a twisted maze of odd-time signatures and distorted bass. For the only instance on the album, Watt departs from the autobiographical viewpoint of the story and instead portrays the illness that tormented him. The song's instrumental middle section features Sun Ra-like discordant keyboard work from Mazich while Watt uses a Whammy pedal to make his bass sound like a Theremin.

"Tied A Reed 'Round My Waist" starts the "Purgatory" section of the album with the most gentle sounds on the album so far, representing Watt's demeanor as he goes through the surgery that saves his life. "Pissbags and Tubing" follows with another odd time signature (5/4 time) over which Watt tells the take of his post-op recovery. "Beltsandedman" closes out the "Purgatory" section, with both Watt's voice as well as his bass being put through fuzzboxes to match the song's mood and title.

The closing "Heaven" section starts off with the song's most uptempo piece, "The Angels Gate" (named after the harbor in San Pedro). While Mazich conjures up his inner Rick Wakeman again by way of The Stranglers to propel the tune with frantic organ arpeggios, Watt - almost shouting for joy at this point - recalls how he struggled to try to "find a groove" again after nine-plus weeks of not being able to play his bass until it occurs to him to "play like a Stooge" - i.e. he used Stooges songs to help rebuild his chops: "Gotta send respect to Dave [Alexander, Stooges bassist]/His bass lines saved the day/Reaching out from beyond the grave." [Watt, of course, has since gone from playing like a Stooge to actually becoming one of the Stooges!] "Pluckin' Pedalin' and Paddlin'" follows with an appropriate, almost bicycle-riding-tempo groove. "Pelicanman" closes out the proceedings with loping, circular bass lines, as Watt looks forward to the rest of his life now that one of the most trying ordeals of that same life is over with.

The various trials and tribulations that occured in Watt's life and career in the five years between the end of the Engine Room tour in 1998 and 2004 - including touring as part of J. Mascis & The Fog in 2000-2001 and becoming a full-fledged member of the Stooges - made for the longest time he has ever taken between recording and releasing records, but the end result of the compelling music and lyrics of The Secondman's Middle Stand make it worth the long wait.


People who liked this also liked:
Minutemen - Double Nickels on the DimeMike Watt - Ball-Hog or Tugboat?Akiakane - KasumisouMinutemen - We Jam Econo DVDRollins Band - WeightRamones - Halfway to SanitySocial Distortion - Hard Times and Nursery RhymesBlack Flag - Live DVDAndrew Jackson Jihad / Cobra Skulls - Under the Influence Vol. 6 [7 inch]Teenage Bottlerocket / The Ergs! - Under the Influence Vol. 4 [7 inch]

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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
notfeelingcreative (September 4, 2004)

or buying this, rather

notfeelingcreative (September 4, 2004)

So wait, no Thurston Moore, no J mascis, no kathleen hannah,no eddie vedder, no evan dando?!!! Just Mike Watt? Psssh i'm not buting this!!

mwsmedia (September 3, 2004)

I admire Watt, I have tremendous respect for him, and his example has had a profound influence on my own creative attitude, but I can't agree that this album is worth a high rating.

As a document of Watt's experience with his illness, it has some merit, but there's very little for people to empathize with exactly because it's such a personal, detailed account. "Contemplating The Engine Room" was similarly defective -- if Watt wants to write biographies and autobiographies, he's going to have to get used to diminished sales and very few new converts. My disappointment level with Watt's recorded output has been steadily rising since "Ball-Hog," and for the first time I'm regretting that I spent more than fifteen dollars on this album.

Finally, I appreciate the tradition of basing new art on old art, but falling back on Dante is a little tired, and overlaying the structure of the Divine Comedy on an illness/recovery is such an obvious choice, it's almost a cliche.

mateo (September 2, 2004)

i'm so glad someone reviewed this. i had this record in my hand yesterday at Rhino, but i was short on cash so i decided to wait on a review of some sort first.
i'm sold...thanks CJ.

Anonymous (September 1, 2004)

Mr. Watt has made his best solo record ever. This is the best thing he's done since he was with the minutemen. Can't wait to see him here on the 18th and hopefully with some luck, opening ---- Fabian

Anonymous (September 1, 2004)

It's a cool album, but it touches on Tommy and other rock operas for the overly dramatic flair and cheesy vocals...I say give it an 8.

Anonymous (September 1, 2004)

Awesome review. Ignore the idiots who can't be bothered to read.

Anonymous (August 31, 2004)

i know watt is one of the most talented bassists of all time, but i'm pretty skeptical that his release warrants a rating of 10. and that review is intolerably long.

TheOnetrueBill (August 31, 2004)

It's damn close.

kirbypuckett (August 31, 2004)

Longest review in PNdotO history?

- Kirby

Anonymous (August 31, 2004)

are you reviewing this album or the artist? shut the fuck up and talk about the music.

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