Regardless of what the outside world thinks of his music, Mike Watt digs what Mike Watt does. That sense of self-satisfaction has come in handy over the course of a 35-year career that has seen him take his music in a lot of left-of-center directions. Whether it be ambitious concept albums or dueling bass duos, the Minutemen bassist and founding member is anything but shy about stretching his instincts.
But Watt’s tendency to treat his career as one overarching vanity project can be a lot of work for fans. It’s near impossible to tell what you’ll get from him from record to record, and while he’s spot-on more often than not, his creative whims can on occasion leave listeners in the dust. Il Sogno Del Marinaio, Watt’s trio with guitarist Stefano Pilia and drummer Andrea Belfi, is one such far-reaching excursion that works for what it is: a collaborative musical experiment, but one that doesn’t stand up as easily as his other work to a casual listen.
Watt, Pilia, and Belfi first broke ground together in 2009 with La Busta Gialla, which tinkered with the kind of nautically themed art rock (Il Sogno Del Marinaio translates to “The Sailor’s Dream”) that Watt has frequently circled back to over the course of his career. Now the trio returns with Canto Secondo, which unsurprisingly picks up where its predecessor’s experimental jams left off. The vibe is set right away on lead track “Animal Farm Tango”, which features Watt speak-singing free-associative rants over procession line drumming and Pilia’s ambient guitar twang. The rest of Canto Secondo covers similar ground, and while the band lets their music hang pretty far out on the limb, the individual pieces lock together seamlessly. When they really cut loose and let the jazzy jam rock fly, as they do on “Skinny Cat”, the results are plenty impressive from a musicianship standpoint.
If Canto Secondo plays into anyone’s hands, it’s Watt’s dedicated cult of supporters. But outside of preaching to the choir, it’s easy to see how newcomers might struggle to keep pace with the 56-year-old’s restless ambition. Even when the trio eases off the throttle on “Stucazz?!!”, which comes a shade closer to something in the Minutemen/fIREHOSE ballpark, Canto Secondo is hardly a suitable inroad to Watt’s music. Fans will get some satisfaction out of the bassist’s penchant for spiels, but newcomers might be better off starting back at the beginning before trying to pick up what Il Sogno Del Marinaio is throwing down.
Essential Tracks: “Stucazz?!!”, “Skinny Cat”