In a better world, neither of these albums would exist. D. Boon, the hulking frontman and guitarist of the Minutemen, would not have died in a van accident three days before Christmas 1985, and the trio’s surviving rhythm section (bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley) would not have had to find a new partner. But since we can’t alter fate, we’ll have to console ourselves with a raucous wake, in the posthumous compilation Ballot Result, and a life-affirming funeral, in the debut album by Watt and Hurley’s new band, Firehose.
Watt’s sign-off to his liner notes of Ballot Result — “I love you d. boon, forever” — is the one mournful note on a farewell album that is anything but sad. The heart of this thirty-one-song album is the nearly three full sides recorded for Atlanta and Los Angeles radio stations. The trio charges through ferocious versions of Minutemen classics and sloppy but endearing covers. And for poignancy’s sake, nothing tops this version of their autobiographical “History Lesson — Part Two,” sung by an unusually serene Boon.
Ballot Result was originally planned as part of a triple-LP set, Three Dudes, Six Sides, Half Studio, Half Live, that was to consist of newly recorded live versions of songs voted as favorites by the band’s fans. When Boon’s death scrapped those plans, Watt scoured for versions of those songs. The kitchen-sink nature of Ballot Result hasn’t made for an album destined for compact disc. Yet from the ramshackle 1980 practice tapes to Boon’s volatile solo version of a song against U.S. involvement in Central America, “No! No! No! To Draft and War,” recorded five years later, Ballot Result is a striking audio vérité history of a band that died too soon.
Boon’s ghost looms over Ragin’, Full-On — and not merely owing to Watt’s dedication of “this and all future fiREHOSE records … to d. boon.” When the trio — Watt, Hurley and new frontman Ed Crawford — start pummeling their instruments with odd jazz-funk-rock punctuation, you may think you’re hearing Minutemen outtakes. The titles alone of Watt’s witty new songs (“Under the Influence of Meat Puppets,” “Another Theory Shot to Shit”) recall Minutemen raveups like “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing” and “Do You Want New Wave (or Do You Want the Truth)?”
But Ragin’ surveys enough new territory to qualify Firehose as its own group, whether it’s with punchy power-chord rockers, skittery funk or the disarmingly gentle closer, “Things Could Turn Around.” Granted, foisting all the vocal responsibilities onto twenty-four-year-old Crawford has its drawbacks. When his guitar playing isn’t recalling Boon, Crawford’s voice recalls Michael Stipe, especially on the lumpy folk rock of “The Candle and the Flame” and “Choose Any Memory.” Yet, as Crawford intones earnestly, “So difficult, we care enough to try.” There’s no need to explain — the very existence of Ragin’, Full-On is more than any of us had expected.