The essence of punk in a sinister setting - A review of NoFX's ''First Ditch Effort''
Most punk bands have that one album where they get rid of their carefree, juvenile and rebellious spirit and sound dark, grown-up and serious. In the case of Southern Californian punk rockers NoFX, this one album might be First Ditch Effort. The record deals with the drummer’s reflections on his drug abuse in ‘’Six Years on Dope’’ or the singer's negative behavior in the past in ‘’I Don’t Like Me Anymore’’. Some songs also deal with identity problems such as gender dysphoria in ‘’I Am a Transvest-lite’’ or social phenomenons such as the abuse of prescription medication in ‘’Oxy Moronic’’. Other tracks are dedicated to deceased punk rock icons or friends as ‘’I’m So Sorry Tony’’ which honors No Use for a Name front man Anthony James Sly or ‘’Sid and Nancy’’ that goes back to the conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Six Pistols bassist Sex Pistols and his girlfriend Nancy Laura Spungen.
The lyrical topics also have an impact on the sound of the record. While this is still undeniably a punk rock record, several songs are slightly slower than the band’s standard tracks from the past. Many songs have a thoughtful and melancholic atmosphere instead of the straightforward and angry attitude the band is known for. While most albums of the band included at least a few more humorous tracks with joyous ska influences, there are none of this kind on the new album. At a few select moments, a trumpet can be heard on a few songs but instead of adding a joyful tone, it sounds rather sad. Several tracks include numbing electronic sounds and others even include extended melancholic piano passages supported by dramatic female guest vocalists.
While this change of style might be unusual at first contact and maybe even disappoint some fans of old date, First Ditch Effort is a very creative, detailed and rich album that truly unfolds after a handful of spins. Especially the more experimental tracks turn out to be consistent growers. The elegiac piano sounds, sad female backing vocals and the short speech in ‘’I’m So Sorry Tony’’ are among the most intense moments of the record. The pessimistic album closer ‘’Generation Z’’ offers a thought-provoking statement about the need to save our devastated planet for the sake of the next generation. The melancholic track includes sad vocals by a female infant and a critical speech of a concerned woman ending with the words ‘’I’m sorry to be the one to inform you but man- and womankind has unfortunately been pronounced dead.’’
In the end, First Ditch Effort is one of NoFX’s strongest record because it’s so different. Despite a darker, more gown-up and very serious tone, this album is still a first class punk rock record powered by emotions and filled with truly inspired lyrics. Fans of old date should give this album a chance to grow on them while First Ditch Effort might even attract a new audience. If you are looking for a strong rock album with meaningful lyrics, this one’s for you.
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