NOFX – First Ditch Effort
Released: Oct 7th, 2016
NOFX Line up:
Fat Mike | Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar, Keyboards
Eric Melvin | Rhythm Guitar, Accordion, Backing Vocals
El Hefe | Lead Guitar, Trumpet, Backing Vocals
Eric “Smelly” Sandin | Drums
There really is very little to say about First Ditch Effort, the thirteenth album from NOFX. This reality (albeit the cause of extensive writer’s block for me) has little bearing on the quality of NOFX’s finest work since the mid 2000’s. Rather, it demonstrates the difficulty in reviewing what is an exceptional punk album and somehow doing it justice.
NOFX does what NOFX does, and to critique First Ditch Effort in any context other than this would be ludicrous. It goes without saying that if you’re a NOFX fan listening to a NOFX album you know what you’re going to get. Sure, NOFX has genre blended before, incorporating a variety of different genres and elements to their sound (Melvin plays an accordion for fuck’s sake), but First Ditch Effort just like most NOFX albums doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Mind you, this isn’t a criticism. NOFX have their sound and they more or less stick to it, which is probably why their popularity has maintained itself for over two decades. First Ditch Effort does incorporate some interesting musical elements, most predominantly female vocals on Sid and Nancy, I’m so Sorry Tony and Generation Z, but you are more or less getting an album which is classic NOFX.
As a whole First Ditch Effort feels far more cohesive than the band’s recent efforts. Whereas 2009’s Coaster and 2012’s Self-Entitled felt like a series of songs written in the same recording session, NOFX’s latest effort sits together thematically as an album. Where snippets of the recording process and other elements are used to connect tracks it is done to great effect, in order to increase the impact of the music. Oxy Moronic concludes with the album’s producer Cameron Webb criticising Fat Mike for not bringing his best to the studio, adding impact to the self-destructive I Don’t Like Me Anymore, one of the more brutally honest cuts from the album. Similarly, I’m So Sorry Tony incorporates audio of the No Use for a Name front man and is a fitting eulogy for the band’s fallen friend.
This cohesiveness only accentuates the only real shortcoming of the album, previously released Sid and Nancy. The majority of the album is so personal in nature that the presence of a song which primarily focuses upon the Reagan family and Sid Vicious seems out of place. Although catchy enough, the track doesn’t fit thematically with the album as a whole and feels like it may have been forced in due to a misguided desire for punk rock credibility. This track could of course have been lost on me because of a lack of personal attachment or disdain to the Reagan era… but I would imagine that the track would be similarly lost on other listeners as well.
Lyrically First Ditch Effort is easily the darkest and most personal album NOFX has ever released. There are only glimpses of the tongue in cheek ‘funny band’ which inspired Tom Delonge in the early nineties. This isn’t restricted to Fat Mike either, with lead single and album opener Six Years on Dope focusing on the extreme heroin addiction Smelly overcame during his adolescence. For Fat Mike, the album covers a number of deeply personal topics including his relationship with his father (Happy Father’s Day), his self-hatred (I Don’t Like Me Anymore), his love of cross-dressing (I’m a Transvest-Lite) and his fears that his daughters will have to live through the end of the world (Generation Z). This brutal honesty only adds to the power of the album, making it far more relatable than the band’s previous work, which were often dripping with sarcasm and directed outwards rather than inwards. Fat Mike’s trademark no nonsense lyrical style only heightens the engagement, giving the album a matter of fact tone which would be undermined by an overuse of metaphor.
NOFX’s latest effort isn’t going to win a Grammy and if you didn’t like them before, you’re unlikely to be won over by First Ditch Effort. If you think about it though, that’s not the point of punk rock and it’s not the point of NOFX. NOFX have, for the most part, been an independent band their entire career and have become very good at maintaining their fan base by doing exactly what they fucking please. First Ditch Effort feels like a natural progression from their book, The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories, continuing with the band’s new modus operandi, which seems to be primarily focused on oversharing with their fans.
Most punk bands are beginning to feel old and tired, releasing the same album over and over again in a way to justify continued touring. You could be forgiven for thinking this is also the case for NOFX, had you seen the Funny or Die video of Fat Mike being extremely confused by the concept of livestreaming to Facebook. Although not breaking any musically boundaries, NOFX is yet to succumb to rehashing old material, which is more than can be said for a lot of aging punk acts. The songs feel fresh and meaningful because it is clear that as they get older NOFX are still growing as people and still have something relevant and exciting to say. The personal nature of what NOFX is doing, thirteen albums into their career, creates a fresh connection with a band that has an incredible legacy already.
If you have 30 odd minutes, sit down, give First Ditch Effort a listen and check out what the fat dude rocking a bright pink Mohawk and a dress has to say, you won’t regret it. If you have longer, give The Hepatitis Bathtub a read too, it’s a killer fucking book… and I have it on good authority it makes Scar Tissue seem like Doctor Seuss. This does makes a lot of sense if you think about it, because Anthony Kiedis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers suck the fat one.
8.5 Fat Mike’s lacy G-strings out of 10
First Ditch Effort track listing:
- Six Years on Dope
- Happy Father’s Day
- Sid and Nancy
- California Drought
- Oxy Moronic
- I Don’t Like Me Anymore
- I’m a Transvest-Lite
- Ditch Effort
- Dead Beat Mom
- Bye Bye Biopsy Girl
- It Ain’t Lonely at the Bottom
- I’m so Sorry Tony
- Generation Z
– Michael Thomas and his opinions