I made a mistake.
It was school vacation week in my neck of the woods recently, and as such, I had the privilege of spending a lot of really awesome time with my eleven-year-old. I also knew I had a review of the upcoming Cokie The Clown album coming down the ‘pike, and assumed – rightfully – that listening to the album with my kid in the car or in the house with me would be a terrible idea, so I decided to take a solo trip to the grocery store one evening and to give You’re Welcome a preliminary listen in the process. As it turns out, there might be worse places than a grocery store amidst the suburban sprawl of the greater Boston area to fire up an album like You’re Welcome for the first time…but there aren’t many.
While Fat Mike hasn’t been shy about wearing his heart on his sleeve for the duration of his three-plus-decade career, You’re Welcome finds that concept amplified: his heart is not merely on his sleeve, but ripped out of his chest and torn to shreds on the floor for all of us to see. You’re Welcome kicks off with “Bathtub,” which finds our protagonist Cokie accompanied by only whatever substances are coursing through his clown veins as he tells the story of waking up in the middle of the night to find his significant other facedown in a bathtub after an overdose, and the resulting uncertainty and dread that came along with wondering if she’d taken her final breaths. Buckle up, my friends, because the ride only gets bumpier from there.
Over the course of the next half-hour or so, Cokie takes the listener on a ride that is at times painfully honest, uncomfortably raw, disturbingly complicated, and is undoubtedly going to piss a lot of people off. There are songs like “Fair Leather Friends” and “Fuck You All” that take thinly-veiled shots at people in Mike’s — er, Cokie’s — personal life that he feels have cheated him, screwed him, abandoned him and otherwise taken advantage of him. “Pre-Arrainged Marriage” theoretically tackles the subject of love, but through the prism of his two previous high-profile failed marriages. Listeners who read the NOFX autobiography The Hepatitis Bathtub several years back might recognize the story that “Swing And A Miss” graphically details, involving the failed and successful suicide attempts of a previous roommate and the fallout that ensued. “Punk Rock Saved My Life” and “That Time I Killed My Mom” shed a little more light on the relationship – or, ultimately the lack thereof – with his parents that was documented on past NOFX tracks like “My Orphan Year” and “Happy Father’s Day.” There’s “The Queen Is Dead,” a heart-breaking ode to a deceased longtime friend that comes across as one of the most tender, genuine moments that Fat Mike has committed to tape. While the bulk of the subject matter is painful, it is oddly enough the themes of narcissism and unresolved anger and self-martyrdom that rear their heads in tracks like “Pre-Arrainged Marriage”and “Negative Reel” and to a lesser extent “Down With The Ship” that I found more cringe-worthy and uncomfortable than the themes of suicide and parenticide and overdosing and bondage that were more prevalent.
Sonically, You’re Welcome plays more like a sad carnival soundtrack than a traditional “punk rock” album. If you give it a listen looking forward to it being composed of two-and-a-half minute anthemic skate punk songs, A) you’ll be wildly disappointed and more importantly B) you should have known better. There’s no standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-repeat in the bunch, meaning You’re Welcome isn’t an uptempo, sing-along style album the way that the Home Street Home musical and soundtrack that Fat Mike and friends put together a few years ago was in spite of its own disturbing imagery. While the musicianship and production are stellar (containing contributions from Travis Barker and Dizzy Reed and production from the mighty Danny Lohner), the majority of the instrumentation is largely present as a means of providing a loosely-built latticework. Fat Mike’s Cokie the Clown “character” — and I’ll save the remainder of my armchair psychoanalysis for another place and time — is by all means the star of the show, and if that means that sometimes songs are going to meander and switch tones and seem a bit unfocused and chaotic and largely just be narratives rather than traditional “songs,” that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
I’m still struggling with what I ultimately think of You’re Welcome in anything resembling a larger sense, which I understand is not maybe the ideal thing to say in a review of an album. I really like the bulk of it, though I have a hard time listening to it for long stretches. While I have long-since tired of the veneration of the degenerate GG Allin or Darby Crash or Sid Vicious types as the bellwether of what it means to be “Punk,” I applaud the choice to pull in some stylistically and artistically different directions and to tackle uncomfortable, challenging topics by way of performance art. From that perspective, You’re Welcome is a resounding success. It’s not an album you’re going to keep on repeat (well…if it is, you may want to have the assistance of a professional therapist or twelve at the ready). It’s not going to launch a series of copycat albums that turn into their own genre. It will probably leave you deeply disturbed on your trip to the grocery store, as you balance images of a nineteen-year-old Fat Mike showing his recently-deceased friend’s parents the exact spot they cut his lifeless body down and a grown-up Fat Mike covering his soon-to-be-departed mother’s face with a pillow as you try to weigh your bagel flavor options. And that’s exactly the point.