On the back of the CD booklet for NOFX's new album The War on Errorism, there's a caricature of bewildered-looking George W. Bush dressed as a clown in full makeup, surrounded by a bunch of snotty cartoon kids, with a caption that reads, "Somewhere in Texas there is a village without its idiot". Not a bad poke at the President, in a typically blunt, goofy, NOFX kind of way. When you open that booklet and take a peek at the long, three-page introduction written by the band, you're immediately struck by just how passionate these guys have become, as they admit, "Yeah, we're not really known for our politics, but maybe it's time we are". After close to twenty years on the scene, and nine albums of snarky, sophomoric, and terminally silly music (most notably White Trash, Two Heebs, and a Bean and 1994's Punk in Drublic), these skatepunk pioneers are so fed up with what's going on in their world that they feel compelled to try and do something about it. When you see a band of fun-loving skaters become angry enough to put out a record full of political rants, then you know something really must be wrong with America.
"Franco Un-American" might bear a ridiculously awful title, but it's a great, catchy little diatribe against Bush's America. The band may be blunt, but they get their point across well, even managing to rhyme "apathy" with "Noam Chomsky". Singer/bassist Fat Mike sings, in that forever adolescent way of his, "I see no world peace cuz of zealous armed forces / I eat no breath mints cuz they're from de-hoofed horses / Now I can't believe what an absolute failure / The idiot President's stoked cuz we voted for Nader". On "Idiots Taking Over", he muses "There's no point for Democracy when ignorance is celebrated / Political scientists get the same one vote as some Arkansas inbred", while on "American Errorist (I Hate Hate Haters)", he's very perceptive, saying, "You can turn the other cheek, but don't turn the other way / Indifference is our biggest threat".
In recent years, the staunchly independent NOFX has seen American punk music become so watered down with talentless, boring acts, and their tenth album also has a few pointed words aimed at kiddie punks like Good Charlotte who keep torturing our ears with their pop metal disguised as punk. "The Separation of the Church and Skate" (seriously guys, you have to work on those song titles), is refreshingly vitriolic, as Fat Mike rants, "Stop singing about girls and love / You killed the owl you freed the dove / Confrontation and politics replaced with harmonies and schticks / When did punk rock become so tame / These fucking bands all sound the same". The snide "Medio-core" mocks the pop-punks, with its intentionally poppy arrangement and persnickety lyrical content ("Remind me of songs sung in the Seventies / You might fool the kids, but you don't fool me").
But hey, NOFX don't turn completely into grumpy old men. The fun element of their music has always been their trademark, and while those songs are nowhere near as strong as their politically-motivated tracks, they still possess their own twisted charm. You needn't look any further than "She's Nubs", the band's tribute to a limbless fan of theirs, that somehow blends crude humor ("It's hard to give good head or get tied to a bed / When all you've got is a body and head") with lighthearted sincerity ("I hope she thinks this song is good not bad / Cuz we think she's totally rad"), and manages to make it work. "Mattersville" has the band fantasizing about a punk retirement community ("We can do whatever we want whenever we please / There's always a keg of beer and a block of cheese"), and the ska-infused "Anarchy Camp", while a very lame idea for a song, still gets a few chuckles ("meth-amphetamine symposiums (they last a couple days)").
The War on Errorism has NOFX staying the course, musically speaking, sticking to the tried-and-true formula of breakneck speed, catchy melodies, and touches of cheerful ska, but after all these years, the band is as likeable as ever, and this latest effort is their strongest in years. When you hear the clever "We Got 2 Jealous Agains", about a couple who have so much in common, that their punk record collection now has too many duplicates, you find yourself wishing the more popular "punks" had as much heart as these guys. This album isn't the most powerful comment on the state of America these days, and it loses its focus a bit, but still, hats off to one punk band who obviously cares deeply about what's going on around them to stand up and say something about it.