There have been times during their almost 40-year career that a new NOFX record has all the hallmarks of a band going through the motions. A collection of songs that have seemingly been created merely out of an obligation of fulfilling a contract, leaving absolutely no lasting memory.
The highs of ‘Punk in Drublic’ are a distant, 27-year old memory. Since then, there have been some utterly forgettable additions to the NOFX canon, and it was reaching a point where Fat Mike and co became the band you just wanted to play the hits. However, 2016’s ‘First Ditch Effort’ marked one of the best records the group has written since their late-90s heyday.
Five years on, NOFX pick up where ‘First Ditch Effort’ left off with ‘Single Album’, their 14th studio record. It’s dark and deeply personal, revisiting some of the same motifs – addiction, death of loved ones, and crumbling relationships. It contains some of the best songs NOFX have written to date, and continues what has been a very much unexpected renaissance from one the elder statesmen of punk.
Opening with ‘The Big Drag’, a track which Fat Mike has already labelled one of his “favourite NOFX songs ever”, it’s a slow-burning post-hardcore track imploring the protagonist to make the most of life. Surprisingly, for a NOFX record, this is one of the more optimistic songs on ‘Single Album’.
We delve into the depths of Fat Mike’s struggle with addiction on ‘Birmingham’ which describes a tale of relapsing. Meanwhile, ‘Fish in a Gun Barrel’ pulls out the Hammond organ, saxophones and upstroke guitars as he reels off the various questions that are asked every time a mass shooting occurs, ending with the pertinent line, “Only a lunatic would sell a lunatic a gun”, a barb at the US’ gun culture stance.
In among the darkness, however, there is the trademark NOFX sense of humour such as ‘Fuck Euphemism’ where Fat Mike pictures his first “gender pronoun bar fight” in brutally discussing his own sexuality. Then ‘Linewleum’ pays homage to their biggest hit – ‘Linoleum’ – and gives the 1994 classic a send off that only NOFX could provide, by parodying it to the absolute hilt.
It’s the closing triple header of ‘Grieve Soto’, ‘Doors and Fours’ and ‘Your Last Resort’, though, that cements ‘Single Album’ into the highest echelons of NOFX’s vast back catalogue. Dealing with the death of Adolescents’ front man Steve Soto, the rampant drug abuse and overdoses of the 1980s LA punk scene and the trauma of a failing relationship, respectively, they display some of the most poignant songwriting the band have done to date.
To say that a group can mature after 40 years together seems churlish and overdramatic but ‘Single Album’ continues the devastating themes that ‘First Ditch Effort’ laid the foundations for. It feels that rather than going through the motions, NOFX are breaking new ground and confronting topics that would’ve brushed under the carpet 20 or so years ago.
The lyrics are devastating, the commentary is razor sharp, the tempo is fast and sneering, and the guitar solos drop in all the right places. After – in their words – 40 years of “fuckin’ up”, ‘Single Album’ may just be the most memorable record Fat Mike, El Hefe, Melvin and Smelly have produced.