I’m trying to keep emotion out of this. I saw on the Fat Wreck Chords website that NOFX was releasing a brand new 7″ called Hepatitis Bathtub featuring similar artwork to that of their book of the same name. The item description on the Fat Wreck Chords website gave no information other than the track listing, but since this was less than two months following the release of their best full-length studio album at least since 2006 I assumed that this new record consisted of First Ditch Effort rejects. Of course I’d recognized the title “Nothing But A Nightmare”, a Rudimentary Peni cover song that was performed on NOFX’s 1995 live album, but I’d thought the band must have re-recorded it, as they had laudably re-recorded “Hold It Back”, another 1980s track, a few years ago. Songs “Young Drunk and Stupid” and “Death of a Friend”, judged by their titles, seemed spot on with other First Ditch Effort song topics, as well as prominent themes in their collective autobiography.
But no, this record does not consist of new songs, or even of new recordings of old songs. Rather, these songs were recorded in 1987 “in a basement in Omaha”, before NOFX signed with Epitaph Records and long before El Hefe was a member of the band. To be fair, I did find a press release on the Fat Wreck Chords website from a few weeks prior to the release date that described the Hepatitis Bathtub EP as consisting of a “recently unearthed, crazy old NOFX recording to go along with the crazy old stories in the book.” So, while this information wasn’t, and still isn’t, in the item description on the Fat website, had I done a little more research I wouldn’t have felt as let down the first time I gave it a listen after receiving my pre-order in the mail.
For those yet to delve into the first chapter or two of NOFX’s career, be aware that Fat Mike and Company weren’t very good in the 1980s. Liberal Animation (1988), the band’s debut LP, may be hard to listen to but compared to the earlier stuff it’s pristine. The recording quality on Hepatitis is poor, but if we can look the other way for Operation Ivy, then we can forgive NOFX, too; it’s the songs that matter most. But severely lacking in NOFX’s early work are melodies. The band was stylistically more hardcore-punk back then, but on the occasion Fat Mike attempted a melody he too often paralleled the guitar riffs and bass lines, rather than having a distinct vocal melody with instrumental accompaniment. This is evident at times on each Hepatitis song, particularly “Too Mixed Up” and “Nothing But A Nightmare”, the latter of which is longer than I’d previously known it to be (I admit I’m not familiar with the original version); the band must not have thought the song was worth playing in full on I Heard They Suck Live (1995).
Now, I feel like I know kind of a lot about NOFX . Still, Maximum Rocknroll, a compilation of pre-Epitaph NOFX recordings, is one NOFX record I’ve had trouble spending much time with. In fact, I’m so unfamiliar with the compilation that upon seeing the track listing for Hepatitis Bathtub I didn’t recognize the titles “No Problems” and “Too Mixed Up” from Maximum Rocknroll. The versions are slightly different, but that would have gone unnoticed, too, had I not looked it up out of sheer curiosity. This “new” EP’s bright spot is “Young Drunk and Stupid”. It’s impossible to make out the lyrics, but the overall composition has by far the most depth, and would most benefit from a re-recording a la “Hold it Back”. All in all, this new release of old material is a disappointment.
Also released sporadically throughout the fall, and on various colored vinyl, was the Oxy Moronic 7” single, dubbed “Original Demos #3” by Fat Wreck Chords. With the album version on side A and a demo version of the same song on side B this record struck me as a cop-out money-grabbing gimmick, but I overpaid for it on eBay anyway.
And I’m glad I did! “Oxy Moronic” is one of the stronger songs on an album filled with strong songs, but to see where it came from is fascinating. The demo version bears the same title and the occasional lyric – although “Oxy Moron” is uttered repeatedly, not “Oxy Moronic” – but otherwise it sounds like a completely different song. While faster, the demo is simply not as clever melodically or lyrically as the final product, and, for what it’s worth, the production quality of a demo is never as good as the studio version, though this track still blows the Hepatitis Bathtub EP out of the water. If only someone could provide a detailed step-by-step description of how the First Ditch Effort version came to be. Maybe for their next book.
In summary: NOFX still good, Hepatitis Bathtub EP bad, Oxy Moronic 7” interesting.