[29 October 2012]
Next year marks the 30th anniversary for punk band NOFX. Originally formed in Los Angeles, California, in 1983, the band has sold more than six million albums, with more than a few of those being downright snot-nosed punk rock classics. You might reasonably assume that – as NOFX advances further into its, ahem, mature years – its rebelliousness might dissipate in the face of family responsibilities, mortgages, and graying pubic hair, but no. On the band’s latest album, Self Entitled, NOFX does a heartening job of proving that age has not blunted its mischievous and astringent edge in the slightest.
NOFX’s 12th release is bursting with lowbrow humor, good old anti-authoritarianism, and trademark disrespectfulness. On Self Entitled, NOFX takes no risks whatsoever, but then, the band’s long career has been built on variations of a similar theme – albeit one that’s proven to be extremely entertaining for fans. If the idea of aging punks wallowing in the sewer and dissecting political theory with a smutty vernacular seems juvenile or repellent, then you’re clearly not NOFX’s target market. But for those who’ve stayed the course with the band, or drifted off since its ‘90s heyday, you can be assured that all is well, and much the same.
Amped-up melodic punk has always buttressed the band’s darkly humored observations on sex, religion, and politics, and, on Self Entitled, the irreverence is back in full force. “72 Hookers” suggests shipping sex workers to the Middle East may be a solution to terrorism (“When everyone is getting blowjobs we’ll finally have world peace”). “Xmas Has Been X’ed” dismantles Christmas myths with plenty of satirical vigor. And the heartbreaking reality of apportioning a record collection at the end of a relationship is tackled on “I’ve Got One Jealous Again, Again” (“I got one Black Flag Damaged and one Golden Shower of Hits, I left the Misfits coffin set, but I fucking kept the Spits”).
“I’ve Got One Jealous Again, Again” deconstructs vocalist/bassist Fat Mike’s divorce in a bleak, though bitingly humorous fashion. Offering sage advice (“19 or 20 years ago, I labeled my slip covers, that was a union I wasn’t willing to risk”) it’s not the only song to offer up some poignant self-reflection. “Cell Out” deals with accusations about the band’s continued popularity over the decades, though NOFX have always remained studiously independent, and drug addiction lows are explored on “She Didn’t Lose Her Baby”. Still, it wouldn’t be a NOFX album without the twisted psych of Fat Mike turning upside-down frowns around with a little cheeky wordplay – “I, Fatty” and “My Sycophant Others” offering further peeks into his mercurial mind.
All that wit and candor is delivered via Fat Mike’s characteristic nasal narration, backed by Eric Melvin and Aaron ‘El Hefe’ Abeyta’s chug-chug, buzz and fuzz guitars and Erik ‘Smelly’ Sandin’s thumping drumming. There are no surprises in the bounce and punch; instrumentally it’s as expected, with the band staying true to its So-Cal pop-punk roots (although the electro-pulse of “Cell Out” is something to behold). The only evidence of any real growth is in the odd lyrical recognition of the trials and tribulations of getting older and relationships becoming stale. Aside from that, like the music within, it’s all as you’d presume – although given progression isn’t exactly NOFX’s raisons d’être the band’s adherence to the tried and true is not something to grumble about.
For the past 30 years, NOFX’s accent has remained fixed as it has released one whip-snapping punk romp after another. That’s no complaint – you don’t sell millions of albums and have a three-decade career by dissatisfying the customer – even if the band’s last full-length, 2009’s Coaster, was a definite low point. Self Entitled certainly gets things back on the right path by being caustic, having more of a pugnacious kick, and finding a sure-footed balance between the comical and choleric.
Catchy, fun, and even touched with a little regret, Self Entitled is just the kind of album NOFX should be making at this point. It’s a fine representation of its strengths, demonstrating there’s still flammable fuel left in the tank, and it proves that the band hasn’t given in to entropy. NOFX’s passionate audience has stuck with the band through thick and thin, and Self Entitled is a great example of why that is. There’s nothing innovative waiting to be discovered, but after 30 years of mining the brat-punk vein, NOFX are still more than capable of unearthing plenty of enjoyable gems.