ALBUM REVIEW / POP : MIKE WATT: "Ball-hog or Tugboat?" Columbia , ***

The premise sounds like a recipe for chaos: Veteran punk-rock bassist and four-dozen friends and associates assemble 17 tracks in three different studios. But the fact is that former Minutemen/Firehose bassist Watt's songwriting, spirit and fretwork have all the tensile strength necessary to hold it together--even the vitriolic phone message from Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna.

Watt and his post-punk hall of fame (including members of Pearl Jam, the Beastie Boys, Nirvana and Sonic Youth) run the gamut from thick melodic guitar pop to thin lilting airs to gravelly funk, snazzy jazz and jams that range from snappy and abrasive to loose and sprawling.

Among the highlights: the clattering, sax-infused grooves of "E-Ticket Ride," the taut, tuneful barb aimed at rampant revivalism of "Against the '70s" and the spiffy, swinging strut of "Sidemouse Advice." This is truly a super group.

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