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Thursday, March 13, 2008

MINUTEMEN 3-Way Tie (for Last)

SST Records SST-CD-058 (1985)

When Robert Christgau stated that the untimely death of Minutemen vocalist/guitarist/songwriter D. Boon was on a par with those of John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix for wasted potential, he wasn't exaggerating. Boon may not have achieved the fame of those men in his twenty-seven years on the planet, but it wasn't for lack of trying. After five years and ten records of brilliant, uncompromising punk rock, 3-Way Tie for Last sounded like the beginning of a new direction for the band that would have brought them increased exposure; instead, thanks to a tragic automobile accident, it was to be the band's (and Boon's) epitaph.

Too bad, because the album found the group coming to terms with commercial accessibility in a way that didn't place any limits upon their creative identity or their artistic integrity. From the soaring guitar solo on "The Price of Paradise" that opens the album to the friendly acoustic bounce of "What Is It?", the group stood poised for a breakthrough, even if their increasingly political lyrics (and far-left leanings) seemed unlikely to endear them to radio programmers. Sadly, it was not to be.

A lot of die-hard fans consider their double-LP opus Double Nickels on the Dime to be the Minutemen's finest hour, but I prefer 3-Way for not only its brevity but also its focus; the songwriting is some of the group's tightest. Besides, for a band that made their name (literally) by playing songs that lasted only a minute or under, less is definitely more.

Though punk to the bitter end, in the past the band had been known to record songs from such unlikely sources as Van Halen and Steely Dan (and in the most sincere, non-ironic way to boot). 3-Way Tie (for Last) features no less than five cover songs, including a beautifully straight-up reading of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain", a rendition of Roky Erickson's "Bermuda" sung into a telephone answering machine by bassist Mike Watt, and a powerful version of Blue Oyster Cult's "The Red and the Black" that may be the group's best performance ever on record.

Here's a promotional video for the group's cover of the Urinals' "Ack Ack Ack" that answers the question, "How do you make a video for a song that's only twenty-seven seconds long?" Why, by bookending it with footage of the band paying tribute to the Three Stooges, of course. It echoes the spirit of the sole lyric of the group's "Situations at Hand": "There are still lofty dreams, meager desires, and still silliness!"


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