1 December 2016

NOFX - First Ditch Effort

Two days ago I finished reading The Hepatitis Bathtub And Other Stories, the autobiography of NOFX. I absolutely loved it, it gave fresh insight into old songs and I feel like I know each member of the band so much better. It's a fascinating story, not just of the band (every member gets to tell their side of things, even ex-members Dave and Steve get to have their say) but there's also insights into the 80's L. A.Punk/Hardcore scene, the gang's that were around back then, drummer, Eric 'Smelly' Sandin's extensive dealings with heroin addiction and Fat Mike's fondness for S&M. There's funny stories, heartbreaking ones, moving ones and a whole lot of people dying. Even if you're not particularly a fan of the band it's still a really, really good read, if a little harrowing at times, disgusting at others but always entertaining. I think the fact it's written from several peoples' point of view means it never gets bogged down or heavy going, even at it's bleakest points. You should read it.

So, armed with this new, extensive knowledge of the band I sat down to write this review feeling very smug. I can knowingly allude to what songs are actually really about, slip in a quote or anecdote and wiggle my glasses in a very supercilious way.
Before I started I had a quick Google of other, better written, reviews as I always do (just in case I've missed something glaringly obvious like an Axl Rose cameo or something) and it turns out every other fucker has had exactly the same smarmy idea already.


 I'll just soldier on with my limited vocabulary and barely any of the self-satisfaction I was hoping for. Hmph.

First Ditch Effort begins with Fat Mike and guitarist Eric Melvin arguing about who's going to sing lead on the opening track, Six Years On Dope, and end up both barking it out. It tells a very brief tale of Smelly's aforementioned heroin addiction. There's a couple of references I would never have noticed in this song if not for the book, such as his old gang, the Dog Patch Winos, for example. There's Caustic Cause, the band he played in before NOFX, plus a few others. Following that is Happy Father's Day which is a short, bitter attack on Fat Mike's father for never being there. It's starts with a nice little melodic intro before zooming off into familiar territory and is over almost as soon as it began.
Sid And Nancy is a fictional story about an affair between Sid Vicious and Nancy Reagan. There's some sparse but effective guest vocals from Karine Denike from Dance Hall Crashers on this one too.

California Drought is about Fat Mike going teetotal after spending years playing on a variety of drugs and alcohol. The previous three songs flew past in a blur so the less frenetic pace is welcome. It also features a trumpet solo from the other guitarist El Hefe, something that doesn't seem to have happened in a NOFX song for a while now. Parp
Another longer, slower song follows with Oxy Moronic, it deals with doctors propensity to dish out medication willy nilly, regardless of what harm they do. It's full of drug related puns like "they'll say my fears are quaaludicrous". Some are quite groan-worthy It's a decent song and an obvious choice for a single. Or song with a video at least.

I Don't Like Me Anymore is along the lines of older songs like The Death Of John Smith, The Separation Of Church And Skate or Dinosaurs Will Die in that it's got a fantastic, breakneck, widdly guitar riff powering it along. There's some great gang vocals in the chorus too. I guess it's about getting tired of drinking, doing drugs and waking up in the morning trying to remember what went on. Something like that anyway.

(l-r) El Hefe, Eric Melvin, Fat Mike, Smelly

Towards the end of The Hepatitis Bathtub, Mike talks about wearing women's clothes and how it's something that, despite all his many tales of drugs, drink and perversion, he's kept hidden and been somewhat ashamed of. The section in the book about his coming to terms with it, embracing it and not being self-conscious about it is actually quite touching. I'm A Transvest-Lite is about all that. It's a good song and I particularly like the closing line of "It's not just girls who wanna have fun"

Ditch Effort sounds like a throwback to the old 80's Hardcore sound. It's okay but isn't up to the standard of what's gone before unfortunately. Next up is Dead Beat Mom that starts with some nice acapela harmonies and bursts into some blistering lead guitar (courtesy of Brian Baker of Bad Religion, Dag Nasty and Minor Threat) before charging along with cheery Punk gusto. Despite the miserable topic it's an upbeat, singalong joy of a song. 

Bye Bye Biopsy Girl is about dumping a girl with cancer. It's a bit of a throwaway track and is a bit forgettable. That said there IS a jaw dropping keyboard solo at around the 1:17 mark that you need to hear. Such skill! such precision!
Talking of keyboards, It Ain't Lonely At The Bottom begins with a nice bouncy keyboard riff. Can keyboards riff? I'm sure there's mullets aplenty who would argue, no. Anyway, they carry on throughout the song and fit it perfectly. It's a happy, catchy song and a highlight of the album. Not THE highlight though, that honorific goes to the next song, I'm So Sorry Tony which is Mike's tribute to Tony Sly, the frontman of No Use For A Name who died of an overdose in 2012. It's a moving song with several poignant lyrics, not least the heartbreaking "I was there to give your eulogy but not when you needed a friend". The song finishes with a sample of Tony at the end of a NUFAN gig saying goodnight.

The final song is called Generation Z, it's about how the youth of today could grow up to be the generation that sees the destruction of society as we know it. It's a bleak, nihilistic song and has an extended outro that features Mike's stepdaughter Sidra doing a little spoken word piece and guest vocals from his other daughter Darla and also Tony Sly's daughter Fiona. It's a good song to end the album on but maybe I'm So Sorry Tony might have been more fitting? I dunno. 

First Ditch Effort is about NOFX's millionth album but they still show no signs of wear. I think they've yet to release anything to match White Trash..., Punk In Drublic or Heavy Petting Zoo but since that Mid-Nineties period they've also never really released an album that's been less then very good. And while First Ditch Effort does have a couple of filler tracks it's nonetheless a very good album.

8 out of 10 - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Best Track: I'm So Sorry Tony

Listen to the album on Spotify HERE
Buy the album from Amazon HERE
Buy The Hepatitis Bathtub from Amazon HERE
Alternatively you can just buy everything direct from Fat Wreck Chords instead HERE

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