Everyone has their own unique story of the first time they heard NOFX. For me, I heard “Dinosaurs will Die” on Purevolume.com at age 12. At first I didn’t quite get it, but it grew on me and a few months later I picked up War on Errorism at Fred Meyer of all places (this was sort of toward the middle-end of the ‘punk rock is commercially successful’ phase we witnessed in the mid-00’s [see: Vans Warped Tour]). WOE is probably in my top 10 or 15 favorite records of all time now, and over the years the band has continued to put out stand out material. So when I heard that Fat Mike (of all people) was going sober, I was curious how it would affect their music. I don’t do drugs, I don’t care about drugs, I drink way less than all of my friends – but it seemed like such a big part of their music and his personality that it couldn’t go unnoticed in the music, right?
Well, turns out that he wasn’t sober during the making of the album, but completed 85 days of sobriety around that time. Also, he’s doing the whole “moderation” thing nowadays. So with that said, a lot of the songs on the album deal with sobriety, but they also touch on other dark corners of Mike’s life. Of course musically NOFX is still NOFX. They still have their trademark mix of slop and pop and while some might worry that they’re “maturing”, don’t fear! The subject matter is more honest, but they’re still written like you would expect NOFX to write them. It’s still counter culture, still challenging, and still a punk rock album.
First Ditch Effort has some of the best songs NOFX have ever written, in my opinion. It’s notably catchy but also aggressive when it needs to be, keeping you on your toes most of the way through. “6 Years on Dope” is one of their most aggressive opening songs since “It’s My Job to Keep Punk Rock Elite.” Melvin’s yell on that song is better than ever (even better than on “The Separation of Church and Skate”, which is possibly my favorite NOFX song of all time) and is a clever ode to the drug abusing life Fat Mike (and his fellow band members) lived prior to this release. “Happy Father’s Day” begins with a sweet “Sadie”-esque riff, and quickly hits the 90’s skate punk territory that NOFX is so famous (or infamous) for. “Sid and Nancy” is a great piece in which Fat Mike theorizes about Nancy Spungen killing Sid Vicous instead of the other way around, similar to a Courtney Love-Kurt Cobain conspiracy theory. The first seven songs on the album are particularly catchy actually, whether it’s the NUFAN-ish “I Don’t Like Me Anymore” or “I’m a Transvest-lite”, which is a confessional tune about Fat Mike’s cross dressing that reminds me a lot of “Quart in Session.” I don’t have much to say about “I’m So Sorry Tony,” besides that they nailed the NUFAN-ish chord progression and the ending sound clip made me really sad.
Of course NOFX has always been known for their puns – is there a punnier band in punk rock? This usually works well for them, but they may have overdone it on “Oxy Moron”.
My three least favorite songs on the album were “Ditch Effort”, “Dead Beat Mom“, and “Generation Z”. “Ditch Effort” and “Dead Beat Mom” aren’t bad, they just didn’t really resonate with me. And as much as I really wanted to like “Generation Z”, the spoken word ending just came off as a little overly cheesy for me.
All in all First Ditch Effort is definitely a stand out record, but what else would you expect from Mike, Smelly, Melvin, and Hefe. Well done guys, and hooray for punk rock in 2016!