NOFX’s New Album Climbs Out of the Self-Loathing Gutter Like a Punk Rock Phoenix
4.6 out of 5 stars
NOFX has been one of my favorite bands since I was in 8th or 9th grade, and I have never stopped listening to them.
However, after about 2009, I definitely sensed something was going on that was changing the way things worked with the band.
I will admit, I don’t generally tend to follow the personal lives of any musicians or celebrities much to the contrary of most humans on Earth.
So, I kinda just went along and thought, “Okay, these songs are still really good, but I don’t really know why they are so different from previous albums.”
Let me try to summarize so I can put this new album into context for the non-hardcore fan:
- In 2006, both of lead singer Michael Burkett’s (a.k.a. Fat Mike) parents die. His estranged dad who had dementia, and his mom who had ovarian cancer.
- In 2009, Fat Mike debuts a character known as Cokie the Clown at the SXSW music festival where he shares some incredibly dark secrets about his past including the instance where he was asked by his own mother to euthanize her, and another time where he and guitarist Eric Melvin turned a blind eye on what they believe was a woman being taken to a bedroom to be raped.
- At the beginning of the set, however, he shared a bunch of shots of Patron Anejo (allegedly mixed with his own urine) with the front rows of the audience who had no idea what they were drinking until at the end of the set, he showed them a video that tracked him from offstage where he appeared to urinate in the bottle all the way until he was pouring the drinks. You can read one press member's account of it here.
- In 2010, Fat Mike separated from his wife of 18 years (still running Fat Wreck Chords record label together though)
- Fat Mike becomes a lot more open about his BDSM as he gets older and writes songs over the years about cross-dressing, pegging and being submissive to dominatrices.
- In 2016, NOFX release the album First Ditch Effort where it gets really personal for the first time (instead of just writing one or two personal songs). The same year, they released their autobiography called NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories which detailed some crazy stories that brought out even further personal information that had not been publicly mentioned before.
- In 2018 NOFX issues a formal apology to fans at the Punk Rock Bowling Festival after they joke on stage about singing a song about Muslims and not getting shot, and that you only get shot in Vegas if you’re in a country band and that it was a good thing it was country fans and not punk fans that got shot which deservedly drew extensive boos from the audience.
- In 2019, Fat Mike revives Cokie the Clown with a full-length album entitled You’re Welcome that I can only describe as one of the most heart-breaking albums I have ever heard. The songs are about his mom’s euthanization, his ex-wife’s overdose, his friend at 19 committing suicide by hanging himself in their house, drug abuse, and other incredibly hard-to-hear tragedies. Bringing full-circle his belief that his true identity is Cokie the Clown and that “Fat Mike” is just the disguise he wears to appear normal enough to be accepted by the world.
Okay, still with me?
This is all to say that this new material comes as a continuation of the dark saga of writing that Fat Mike has put himself into.
But let me stop here, because I want to make it VERY clear, that I absolutely am okay with this direction of writing, because the music is really good and songwriting should be personal, in my opinion.
Am I okay with all of the things that the band does on a personal level or the things they say while on stage? Absolutely not. But I don’t fault humans for making mistakes, as long as they realize that the mistake existed and apologize for it.
This album is not for the masses. In fact, NOFX has never been and never will be for the masses.
This album is for the artists themselves, their friends, their fans, their family and for their own process.
It is for the people who can understand that sorrow and tragedy are not to be disguised, but they need to be expressed.
I have never been an addict. I have never battled with depression. I have never had to stand by and watch all of my friends around me overdose, die, and grapple with mental health issues. I have never been marginalized for my lifestyle choices or for how I look.
I am not saying my life is perfect or anything, and I am also not saying I can’t understand these concepts.
This album shows you how, without having lived this turmoil yourself, you can absolutely feel extreme sadness from hearing how life has so blatantly been lopsided for some people in terms of success and in terms of tragedy.
These last 3 albums have shown me that the world can chew us up and spit us out, and we have every right to deal with it however we best feel. This life is too short to try to be perfect.
Mike seems to be especially chewed up by his past, and those years of tragedy after tragedy turned this once upbeat, punk rocking partier into a grown man with a heavy head, heavy heart, and a soul that seems to be tortured over years of anguish.
This is not to say that you should feel sorry for Fat Mike or anyone else.
Pity isn't the point, if you ask me.
Grief is a process, and, in the case of Fat Mike, he has had one of the most interesting lives ever lived. This means the good comes with the bad, and the bottle that held all the bad seemed to be bottled up for way too long, and then it suddenly spilled over. It hasn’t stopped spilling yet either.
This album seems to be more focused on fighting the inner war than trying to fix the problems of the rest of the world.
However, there are songs that talk about mass shooters, the “never-wrong” attitude of Americans in the modern political debate, and how screwed up the world is, but the rest of the album discusses dead friends, broken relationships, the drug scene in L.A. back in the 80’s, and there is even a song written about a fan who wanted Fat Mike to write a song about him before he died.
This is a drastic change from their pre-2006 material.
Hell, they even kill off one of their most popular songs in the new song “Linewleum.”
The album’s first song “The Big Drag” actually foreshadows exactly how the rest of the album will go by suggesting that if there are gods, they stopped caring long ago because humanity has created their own insurmountable underdog scenario:
Do I recommend this album? Absolutely.
Do I think many people will like it? Probably not.
The music and harmonies are as on point as ever, but there are a lot fewer choruses, and there are a lot fewer singalong songs that make for good interaction.
Of course, with the lockdown on concerts, this was probably the perfect time to release this album.
I would still love to see a few of these songs live, but I would not expect them to carry the same energy as the anti-political or party-punk songs of the past.
The legacy of NOFX is not dying as some critics may suggest.
If you ask me, that legacy has already died, and they are resurrecting themselves as a different type of animal with the same name.