Sound — 8
If you went back in time and told the west-coast punk scene that Fat Mike would write a musical in the future, you'd probably get laughed out of the building, if not the entire state of California. But lo and behold, the frenetic founder of NOFX, best known for singing scathing takedowns of government and religion with excesses of juvenility, has written a musical that's gearing up for a full theatrical production in the coming weeks. It's not that crazy of an idea when you think about it, though. Rock and musical theater have proven to be a viable pairing - from The Who's concept album, "Tommy," being adapted into a bona fide musical, to the popular contemporary rock musical "Rent" - though of course this pairing isn't fool-proof; case in point, the U2-fronted flop, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."
Of course, Fat Mike's punk rock musical - co-written with the award-winning porn director Soma Snakeoil and professional songwriter/playwright Jeff Marx - isn't the very first punk rock musical ever made. Most popularly today, that idea's been conceived by Green Day, with the musical adaptation of their 2004 album, "American Idiot." But if "American Idiot" is the conventional take of a punk rock musical, "Home Street Home" ends up being the subversive foil to that, akin to the likes of Trey Parker & Matt Stone's "The Book of Mormon" - a tangible comparison, in fact; the third creator of "The Book of Mormon," Robert Lopez, had co-written the unconventional puppet-laden musical, "Avenue Q," with Marx.
While NOFX is primarily employed to provide the punk fuel for the score, "Home Street Home" doesn't take the easy route of being nothing more than a NOFX concept album, and Fat Mike assembles his own Justice League of punk colleagues to collaborate on the soundtrack - from an ensemble of guest vocalists (like Tony award winner Lena Hall, Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba, Frank Turner and the late Tony Sly) to a lengthy list of compositional contributions from bands, including The Mad Caddies, The Descendants, Lagwagon, The Living End, The Real McKenzies and more.
But even with this robust roster responsible for widening the array of sound (like the bluegrass punk jam "Fecal Alcohol Syndrome," and the tandem of ukulele ditties "Bad Decision" and "Another Bad Decision"), Fat Mike's songwriting alone runs a gamut that's musical-worthy. He goes from indulging in the jovial style of show tunes in a "Simpsons"-esque way in "High Achievers" and "Let's Get Hurt" to showcasing genuinely melancholy numbers like "Three String Guitar," "Three Against Me," "Missing Child," "Seeping Beauty (Reprise)" and the penultimate power ballad "Life... Oh What a Drag." And while of course the soundtrack contains some stark punk cuts like "Urban Campers," "Gutter Tarts," "I'm Suicide" and "Safe Words," the more intriguing punk moments are when Fat Mike fuses them with show tunes elements, like in "Monsters," "Bearly Legal" and "Because I Want To."
Lyrics — 9
As one could have easily guessed by the name of the musical and its creator, the story of "Home Street Home" is about a group of homeless punks getting through life by their own means (seriously, would you have expected Fat Mike to write a musical about anything else?). As simple as it may seem at face value, the execution admirably contains a full stock of intertwining ensemble storylines, captivating character development, and storytelling that hits both marks of comedy and drama.
The opening song, "Monsters," introduces the main character, the sixteen-year old Sue, by wielding a double entendre of the adolescent fear of bedtime monsters with the reality of her father molesting her for years. As she finally summons the gall to run away from her abusive home, she meets, and is taken in by, a group of similarly-aged homeless punks- a subculture which she's not familiar with at all. In her time with the group, she not only grows accustomed to their counterculture ways (from the "drugs are good" message of "High Achievers" to the extreme sexual education and gratification of BDSM in "Let's Get Hurt" and "Safe Words" [which is the peak of Fat Mike's blue humor on the album]), but she also learns that her new compatriots have come from similar origins of abusive home life in "Fecal Alcohol Syndrome" and "Three Against Me."
Though Sue still struggles with her trauma and depression (as shown in her self-harm soliloquy "Seeping Beauty (Reprise)"), she ultimately finds strength in the liberty of her new lifestyle in "Because I Want To," but in the midst of her emerging from her cocoon as a denim-vested butterfly of the alley, her father finally finds her and insists on bringing her back home. The penultimate "Life... Oh What a Drag" shows another low point of the story, where the group has to destroy their "home" and go somewhere else, but with the silver lining message of "our family will survive in any place," the story dovetails into the final track, "The Agony of Victory," which, while originally from NOFX's 2009 album, "Coaster," serves as the keystone thesis of the entire story (and hey, if the "American Idiot" musical can end with Green Day's overplayed acoustic ballad, "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," there's nothing wrong with Fat Mike recycling his own song, too).
Overall Impression — 9
Not only does "Home Street Home" prove to be another successful gesture of Fat Mike's eclectic expansion of songwriting, but it accomplishes the tricky task of manifesting the raw spirit of punk into a musical without rendering itself insipid or hokey. Fat Mike treats this musical like he has with any of his albums - not giving a sh-t about how many people will like it - and that's the real ingredient that makes the album triumph. It's a musical by punks for punks, and even though punk fans may have the music taste buds that trigger gag reflexes when exposed to show tunes, "Home Street Home" will not only be easy for them to swallow, but they'll likely relish in this exception to their preference.