What Makes a Man Start Fires? is the second full-length album and fifth release overall by influential American punk rock band Minutemen.
At almost twice the length of their previous album, The Punch Line, the Minutemen's songs began surpassing the two-minute mark. Breaking another Minutemen record, the band took the longest time they took to date to record What Makes A Man Start Fires?. The basic tracks were recorded in one late-night session, but then the band held two separate late-night sessions for guitar and vocal overdubs. While the songwriting credits are shared amongst all three Minutemen, all of the music for the album was composed exclusively by bassist Mike Watt; the bass-centered origins of the songs is especially apparent on such tracks as "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs", "Sell Or Be Sold", and "The Anchor" . All three members contributed lyrics.
Also for the first time on a Minutemen record, the band had a guest musician, Saccharine Trust guitarist Joe Baiza, who added improvised guitar leads to "Beacon Sighted Through Fog" and "East Wind/Faith". Drummer George Hurley introduces his first non-drum percussion work on a Minutemen album, playing a collection of empty oil drums on "East Wind/Faith".
For what would be the only time on a Minutemen release, all of the lead vocals were sung exclusively by D. Boon, although Watt does contribute backing vocals.
The opening track, "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs", is actually meant as a tribute to Dylan (a hero of Watt's since his childhood) as well as a tongue-in-cheek parody of Dylan's classic early lyrical style. Further showing off their sense of humor, Watt introduces "Mutiny In Jonestown" by slating the take during the basic track recording as "Pavarotti, take one".
"Split Red" is remade from the band's previous release, the 1982 EPBean-Spill, with some different lyrics.