NOFX – Self/Entitled (2012)

Posted: September 27, 2012 in Music

There are not many bands, if any, that have had a career spanning over a quarter of a century, yet continue to get better with age. One of the exceptions is California natives NOFX. If you have been living your life the right way, the band really needs no introduction. If somehow the name doesn’t immediately strike you as the best fucking punk band ever, then I would suggest a little Wikipedia research first, then coming back here to read on.

We’ll wait a few minutes…

As they continue to write the rule book for independent bands (they have never once recorded for a major label), the band released their latest half hour of fury, Self/Entitled on September 11th. Whether the release date was intentional (9/11) or not, the album finds the band in a much more serious state of mind than on many of their previous efforts.

Not that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. Fat Mike (lead singer and founder) has always been about two things – punk rock and mind-opening opinions on everything from homosexuality, government corruption, and alcoholism to terrorism, free speech, and pornography. Most of the time, he tackles these topics with a keen sense of humor and toungue-in-cheek approach that doesn’t really hit you with the message until long after the song. The lyrics have (mostly) always been poignant, but you have too much fun listening to the music to really take them to heart immediately – and that’s always been the magic trick with NOFX.

But things are a little different this time around. I don’t know whether to blame it on the band getting older, or it being an election year, or the fact that things are going to hell in a handbasket, but the majority of the songs display a more personal, opinionated perspective from Fat Mike – which lends a more intimate feeling to the album overall. But is that a good thing or a bad thing?

For example,  the opening track (playfully titled “72 Hookers”) is fueled in anti-terrorist anti-Islamic rhetoric. The finished project speaks more against war than anything else, though – and this isn’t the first time the band has made their opinion known about military conflict. Musically, it is as solid as ever, and is NOFX being NOFX. Loud. Precise. And flat vocals.

“I Believe In Goddess” is more self-defining, this time angling most of the lyrics towards religion. But again – not the band’s first rodeo with that topic either. As one of the shorter tracks on the album (clocking in at a blistering 1:33 pace), it is fast, unadulterated punk rock. I actually had hoped this song would have been longer, as it felt like Fat Mike was on to something here, but never really had the chance to expand.

With so much finger-pointing recently in the race for America’s presidency, it’s nice to know that someone realizes when and why this country went to shit. It wasn’t Barack Obama – or George Bush – or even Bill Clinton to blame for our current state of affairs, but none other than the mighty Ronald Reagan.  I’ve always thought of him as one of the worst presidents in our nation’s history – and apparently so does Fat Mike. “Ronnie and Mags” is a slightly humorous history lesson on our former Commander-In-Chief and his odd relationship with the Queen of England during his term. From Reagan’s disastrous plight with welfare, war efforts against El Salvador and Grenada and Iran, to the privatizing of America’s mining industry – NOFX take full advantage of the opportunity to call out the era for the blame it deserves.

Shifting away from the socio-religious-political theme is “She Didn’t Lose Her Baby,” a mildly uncomfortable track regarding drug addiction of a single mother that has the perfect soundtrack of ill-timed fills and fuzzy intro/outro. The band haven’t had trouble in the past tackling serious subject matter, but this sounded a little disjointed.  It’s as heavy-hearted as anything the band has done in the past, and it pretty much showed with its “straight-by-the-book” approach.

Government trust issues rear their head in “Secret Society,” and the band pretty much hits the nail on the head as far as this topic goes.  Smart enough to figure it out, yet still dumb enough to talk about it, Fat Mike plays resident conspiracy theorist here behind more trademark guitars and drums. The lyrics are very smart, and completely drown out any vocal efforts from Eric Melvin, but it gets the point across loud and clear.

 

“I, Fatty” felt like it wanted to be extremely introspective, and almost has Fat Mike  sounding irritated at himself. The track itself is pretty typical fare – but really falls flat on delivering any type of message. If there is any track on the album that has NOFX sounding a bit tired and over it, it’s this one.

Business picks up a bit with “Cell Out,” a supposed message to record company higher ups and music big-wigs. It felt lighter, it had it’s moments of hilarity, and the 8-bit keyboard sound was fresh and unique.  One of the better tracks on the album for sure, but maybe it was due to the fact that the band lowered it’s chin for a moment and came at me with something that didn’t feel so goddamn important for once.

“Down With The Ship” tackles suicide with more serious lyrics (but a killer guitar solo), “My Sycophant Others” felt like a three minute rant against the modern-day punk scene, and “This Machine Is 4” echoes with more cynicism and rage, but delivered with a more melodic process and feel. All good songs that just missed being great. I’m not sure exactly how they missed that little bit of something that would have made them memorable staples in the NOFX catalog, but they – at very least – carried the album to the last two tracks.

Two tracks, that – for me – turned a normal album into an unforgettable one.

The first of those is “I’ve Got One Jealous Again, Again.” For those of you unaware, Fat Mike divorced his wife of  18 years back in 2010, and this song is the first confession of the event. From name dropping everyone to the Sex Pistols to The Lookouts, Fat Mike uses some clever play-on-words to take us through the separation – pain and hate included – every step of the way. After hearing this track about a hundred times, it became clear why our friend wasn’t in the best of moods throughout the record.  As a breakup song, it’s dead perfect – as a song about a man looking in the mirror, it’s even better. Easily the second best track on the record.

And that’s only because the best was saved for last. NOFX, over the years, has honestly influenced my religious and political thoughts – and the perfect culmination of those lessons is the poignant poke at faiths of all shapes and sizes titled “Xmas Has Been X’ed.” Fat Mike covers most of the bases here with blasphemous shout outs to many religions with such lyrics as “The Pentocostal Churches are hanging pentagrams…” in this fictitious cancellation of December’s most revered holiday. For once on the album, it felt like the band was actually having fun and being their normal (read: asshole) selves.

While many might not like the album due to its far-more-serious approach, I think it’s fair to say that the time was right for this chapter of NOFX. 45 years old and unaccountable is no way to go through life – even for a punk rocker, and Fat Mike’s level-headedness this time around ads an interesting twist to a familiar tale.

There’s no question about what has separated NOFX as an enduring force in independent music, and more specifically, as an institution in the punk scene for so long. Their hallmark sound and style matched with their ability to keep things fresh is unparalleled among their peers. This album is a testament to these qualities and is yet another credit to their legacy, even if it isn’t the joke-fest many were probably hoping for.

9/10

Tracklist:
01 – 72 Hookers
02 – I Believe in Goddess
03 – Ronnie and Mags
04 – She Didn’t Lose Her Baby
05 – Secret Society
06 – I, Fatty
07 – Cell Out
08 – Down with the Ship
09 – My Sycophant Others
10 – This Machine Is 4
11 – I’ve Got One Jealous Again, Again
12 – Xmas Has Been X’ed

Buy at Amazon

MySpace: Link | Wiki: Link

 

 

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