Albums always seem to speak a special language when the material gets personal. When an artist puts their own subjective experience into the music, it can be a wonderfully revealing (or groan inducing) experience. Fortunately, punk rock veterans NOFX have achieved the former with their thirteenth full length album First Ditch Effort, a record that brings an immense amount of front-man Fat Mike into the music, along with his personal stories and experiences. This personal investment pays off, as NOFX pulls off a stunning feat and shows the world that they get better with age.
From the opening track, “Six Years on Dope,” Fat Mike gets right into the dark side of his personal struggles with addiction and reckless behavior while the band plays at a high tempo, with chords and riffs bouncing off of Fat Mike’s dark and powerfully delivered lyrics. Next is “Happy Father’s Day,” which starts with a crafty melodic intro with a complex rhythm, displaying some appreciated musicianship from all members of the band. Immediately, another hard-hitting riff fills the soundscape while Fat Mike intensely sings of his gratitude for his dead father, although Mike and his dad might have had a strained relationship.
The lyrics still do have some sense of humor, as NOFX are known for, but have a darker, more mature edge. The band would spend past songs sneering sardonically at the world around them, but this time, they sneer back at themselves—particularly Fat Mike. There are still laughs to be had, like in the track “Nancy and Sid” which details a completely plausible conspiracy about Nancy Reagan and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols.
The humor continues with “Transvest-lite,” a song where Fat Mike confesses to cross dressing since he was thirteen. NOFX’s crafty wordplay and lyrics have always been a staple of this band, and as a fan, I am delighted to have that element come across so well.
Sometimes it can be a little corny and too on-the-nose, though, such as in “Oxy Moronic,” a catchy song using crafty wordplay to demonize big pharma, pill pushing and over-diagnosis of patients. Even though I agree with the message of the song, it got to be a little overdone. The dead horse was obviously beaten one too many times by the end.
For as much as I mention Fat Mike, the rest of the band is still doing great work as well. Erik Sandin, Erik Melvin, and El Hefe all still sound invested and play with energy and style. The instrumentation on the album is incredibly competent and sounds great if not quite as flashy as previous efforts. The band still plays fast catchy riffs with musically pleasing tempo shifts but no one player really steps out of the fold for any solo work. Honestly, this seems like a good decision for the album. The focus is on the lyrical story telling which works very well for the most part. Unfortunately Mike is starting to fairly sound rough on the vocals, with not quite as crisp of delivery and smaller range of notes. However, his heart and soul are audible as the delivery of the limited range is still fierce and emotional at times.
The two ending songs once again go into the more emotional side of Fat Mike. “I’m Sorry, Tony” is a beautiful punk ballad (sounds a little weird but it works well) about deceased rocker Tony Sly, with heartbreaking honest lyrics that depict Mike’s sadness and regret. In “Generation Z,” Mike delves into his fear of the future and what it may hold for his daughter as he tries to find a ray of hope. Adding to the personal feel of the track, it features Mike’s and Tony Sly’s respective daughters as back-up vocals on the track.
First Ditch Effort really is a great title for this album. Despite their age and growing worries, NOFX, and especially Fat Mike, have put forth a deep record full of laughs, passion and plenty of effort. Thanks for sticking around, NOFX.
Final Rating: 8/10
Fav Tracks : “Transvest-lite” “I’m so Sorry Tony” “It ain’t Lonely at the Bottom”
Contact CU Independent Arts Writer Austin Willeke at firstname.lastname@example.org.