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Album Review: NOFX – “Backstage Passport Soundtrack”

“We’re NOFX, screwing up since 1983.” Such is the opening lyric to the first song on NOFX’s Backstage Passport Soundtrack, a fast, in-your-face, melodic-hardcore tune, refreshingly typical of those NOFX has been pumping out for decades. It’s odd to hear NOFX say “screwing” in a song instead of “fucking,” but then you remember this is the soundtrack from a documentary series that aired on television, so NOFX was congenially doing the censor a favor by sparing him a “bleep.” Earlier in the band’s career, they refused to do the same thing with 1993’s “Please Play This Song on the Radio.” Is this a sign of their growing maturity? Probably not.

To the band’s credit, NOFX remains more active than many bands who haven’t yet reached the three-decade milestone. They’re not quite as prolific as they once were, though; after releasing five studio albums between 1991 and 1997, a new studio album has since been released once every three years – literally: 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2012. Barring some incredibly well-kept secret, that streak is coming to an end.

Still, since the turn of the century, they’ve filled the gaps in their discography with “other” releases such as b-sides/rarities albums, a live album, a “greatest hits” album, a slew of EPs, and countless 7-inch records. Following The War On Errorism (2003), NOFX started a 7-inch of the Month Club, in which members received twelve brand new NOFX 7-inch records over a year. Some of those songs went on the Wolves in Wolves Clothing full-length and the Never Trust a Hippy EP. Now, several more have been put on this Backstage Passport Soundtrack.

In the liner notes for Pump Up the Valuum, NOFX promised the inclusion of three songs on their next album. Only one of them actually ended up making it, though, while the others were part of the 7-inch club. One of the songs is “Insulted By Germans,” which makes its CD debut here, although the insults by the German were different, and better, on the vinyl version (most of the songs have been remixed).

Teenage Punching Bag will likely stick in listeners’ memories long after the album is over, with its cascading, brooding, and relentless bass line, Fat Mike’s minimalist yet disturbing lyrics, someone (Melvin?) screaming the lyrics in the background of the final verse, all of which make it unusually intense for a relatively slower punk song.

Most of the songs on Backstage Passport Soundtrack hadn’t been previously released on CD, but the CD-only crowd will recognize “Leaving Jesusland”, only this version is live. The performance and recording quality are decent, not great, but it segues into a live performance of The Greatest Country in the World, a brand new joke song that rips South Africa a new one (“You’ll probably get carjacked in South Africa…”).

Other highlights include “We’re Bros,” a short bro-mantic tune about being best friends; an acoustic version of “You Will Lost Faith,” featuring, in the closing seconds, some of Fat Mike’s all-time best screaming; “Your Hubcaps Cost More Than My Car,” a companion to Wolves in Wolves Clothing’s “The Man I Killed”; and “Fan Mail,” a cover of a Dickies song.

The album comes to a conclusion with a reprise of the first track, but before that there is Eric Melvin on lead vocals and accordion with “I, Melvin.” Songs with Melvin as the lead singer (“Cokie the Clown,” “Hardcore 84,” and “Pump Up the Valuum”) tend to get axed from their respective studio albums and instead get stuck on EPs. While this isn’t a typical studio album, one feels happy for Melvin that, this time, his voice made the cut.

Most of these songs were recorded ten years ago, while the band was still in its prime, and perhaps that is why Backstage Passport Soundtrack comes off a little better than some of the band’s other more recent releases. The album feels short, but, after double-checking, there are fifteen songs covering 33 minutes, so maybe it feels longer if you’re not already familiar with most of the songs. Personally, I’m left wanting the rest of the songs from the 7-inch of the month club. Still, a release by NOFX is better than no release at all, and this one’s pretty good.

4/5 Stars

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