NOFX – Self Entitled
Even constant jokes can’t hide the bleak catharsis and overall dark tone of NOFX’s first album in three years, writes DOUG WALLEN.
Short, frantic and funny: on one hand this is a NOFX record like any other. But Self Entitled is also the first album since frontman Fat Mike’s 2010 divorce from his wife of 18 years, with whom he has a daughter. It’s hard not to dwell on that fact, given just how scrappy and wounded these songs are. Recorded with inky saturation by Descendents’ Bill Stevenson, the album brings out the serrated edge to the guitars and the rattling verve to Fat Mike’s bass lines. Even constant jokes can’t hide the bleak catharsis and overall dark tone, musically and lyrically.
Let’s not paint it as the wrong kind of bummer, though. Opener ‘72 Hookers’ not only finds a way to make light of terrorism but offers the head rush of a minute-plus instrumental start to the record. Fat Mike may tuck his criticism of religion and politics into snide irreverence on ‘I Believe in Goddess’ and ‘Ronnie & Mags’ (that would be Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher), and yet it’s no less pointed. Similarly, ‘She Didn’t Lose Her Baby’ portrays a mother forcibly separated from her newborn but lodges it in crunchy, dead-on melodic punk, with Fat Mike’s age-worn vocals sneering at us alongside racing guitars
His voice is even more ragged on ‘Secret Society’, contrasting with the juvenile streak to his rhymes, and the band find gloomy depth beyond the incredibly catchy call of “fatty” on ‘I, Fatty’, an ode to a doomed silent-comedy star. Fat Mike lashes out at every target he can think of, from a fan who “said she really liked my band in the early ‘90s” on the persecution tale ‘Cell Out’ to pandering yes-men on ‘My Sycophant Others’, albeit slowed down by its spoken bits on repeat visits. And the global disparity of wealth drives ‘This Machine is 4’.
“Fat Mike’s age-worn vocals sneer at us alongside racing guitars.”
But it’s the final two tracks that are most dour. ‘Xmas Has Been X’ed’ isn’t so much an anti-Christmas song as a cynical imagining of how the world’s religions would restructure if Christianity was suddenly disproven. It’s not the most enjoyable song, even by this record’s angsty standards, but it suffers by comparison to the harrowing but powerful split-up song ‘I’ve Got One Jealous Again, Again’, a sequel to ‘We Got Two Jealous Agains’ [sic] from 2003’s The War On Errorism. Echoing the classic Annie Hall scene in which Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s characters sombrely divide their belongs, Fat Mike cites all the records he’s keeping, from Black Flag to Bad Religion to The Replacements.
He finds solace in a reliable place: “I put on some headphones and cheated with my first love, rock and roll.” That’s what this record is all about, as prickly as it is. There will always be dark times in life, but most of us know just where to turn.