If you’ve heard NOFX before, you’ve heard First Ditch Effort, but the band still deliver a fun album with some musical twists, and even some surprisingly mature themes, albeit delivered with trademark tongue-in-cheek aplomb.
Every genre has its royalty, and for punk, NOFX are, if not the kings, at the very least the jackass princes of the kingdom. The formula that brought them success (fast, fun music, bassist/vocalist Fat Mike’s snotty vocals and sarcastic, often bratty lyrics, and lots and lots of booze) hasn’t changed much in the 33 years they’ve been a band, and their 13th full length First Ditch Effort isn’t about to start messing with success.[columns] [column size=”1/3″]
Album Title: First Ditch Effort
Release Date: 07 October 2016
Label: Fat Wreck Chords
Opener “Six Years On Dope” is short, punchy, and old-school, sounding like it’s ripped straight from the early 90s, even managing to sound quite a bit like fellow punk godfathers Bad Religion. “Happy Father’s Day” starts with a shifting alt-rock intro before collapsing into a skatepunk song that takes aim at deadbeat dads everywhere (moms get their turn later on the album). “Sid And Nancy” dives into the conspiracy involving Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and his death, and while the sing-song melody wears a little thin, the interlude in the middle of the song that features news soundbites and a restrained string section (yes, on a NOFX record) helps break the song up into manageable chunks. “California Drought” lets Fat Mike flex his bassist muscles a little, with a set of lyrics I thought I’d never hear from him; the song’s hook is all about trying to stay sober. Lead guitarist El Hefe even gets to break out his trumpet on the interlude.
“Oxy Moronic” is one of the best on the album, thanks to some clever wordplay tackling the pill epidemic sweeping the country. Fat Mike manages to slip in a reference to almost every single prescription drug on the market in 4 minutes, as well as snarky shots like “what we used to call dealers we now call doctors.” “I Don’t Like Me Anymore” is similarly pointed, this time aiming his lyrics at his own flaws (and sung with a disaffected drawl that makes the lyrics stick), and it’s a fist-pumping punk song in all the best ways. Despite the cringe-worthy title, “I’m A Transvest-Lite” is another highlight, detailing Fat Mike’s struggle with admitting he likes to cross-dress. It ends with appropriate triumph, and fortunately never mocks people who are transgender. Sure, Green Day did it better with “King For A Day” 20 years ago, but I doubt NOFX care, and neither should you. “Ditch Effort” has a killer riff that’s a little heavier than usual NOFX fare, and once again recalls some Bad Religion. “Dead Beat Mom” opens a harmonized doo-wop part and a fun bouncy riff, but doesn’t have much else going for it.
“Bye Bye Biopsy Girl” is fun and forgettable, tackling various awkward breakup stories, including dumping someone dealing with cancer. It’s self-deprecating enough to come across without being insulting, at least. “It Ain’t Lonely At The Bottom” throws a stuttering Cars-esque Moog synth over standard punk, and it’s distinctive enough to stand out. The same can’t be said of “I’m So Sorry Tony,” which is a heartfelt but incredibly bland tribute to No Use For A Name frontman Tony Sly, who passed away suddenly a few years back. The highlight of the track is the slightly tweaked throwback to NOFX‘s all-time best riff (“Seeing Double At The Triple Rock”) around 1:20 in. “Generation Z” closes things out, and it’s both bleak and brilliant. Fat Mike expresses his lack of faith that humanity can hold it together much longer, contemplating the likelihood that climate change, nuclear war, or simple greed will cause humanity’s extinction within the next generation or two, and the horror that comes with being a parent in that situation. The song starts like a lullaby and explodes into traditional punk before too long, but it’s the outro that pulls the song all together. The first layer is children reciting philosophical poems, then a younger child starts singing over it, and the song peaks with a choir of children screaming the song title over and over. You’ve heard children’s choirs before, but not like this.
If you’ve heard NOFX before, you’ve heard First Ditch Effort, but the band still deliver a fun album with some musical twists, and even some surprisingly mature themes, albeit delivered with trademark tongue-in-cheek aplomb. The middle of the album is definitely the strongest, but what’s a punk record without filler, anyway? It’s worth it to dig out the gems like “Oxy Moronic,” “Generation Z,” and “I’m A Transvest-Lite.”