Punk icon and rugged individual Mike Watt has done something genuinely strange and original: With Contemplating The Engine Room, he's created a nautical/autobiographical punk-rock opera. Against all logic, it succeeds, more or less brilliantly. Watt's texturally and lyrically nautical song cycle takes the listener through a complete day in the life of a three-man steamship boiler-room crew, which Watt intends as a metaphor for sailor life, his father's Navy career, and his own involvement in the legendary punk band The Minutemen. In any case, they're fun sea songs, particularly the hornpiping "Pedro Bound" and "The Boilerman," as well as the powerful cresting and breaking of "In The Engine Room." Watt's growly, almost-in-tune grumble is featured on every track, and it's a great voice for a tramp steamer's crewman. The whole recording is a pleasant surprise, a revelation of storytelling talent from a man already regarded as great musician. Unique.

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