Sound — 8
With over ten albums under their belt and a heaping of other material, NOFX have eased back on making new records, though the band have been up to plenty of things. In the past few years, frontman Fat Mike has tended to different musical aspirations, from co-writing a soundtrack for the fetish film Rubber Bordello, to making another album with the cover band supergroup Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and hit a new level of creativity in 2015 with his punk musical "Home Street Home." 2015 continued to be an eventful one for him and NOFX, and along with releasing a second season of their debauchery-fueled tour documentary series, "NOFX: Backstage Passport," they would also go on to tour in celebration of the 25-year anniversary of Fat Mike's label, Fat Wreck Chords.
Having stated they were working on a new album during that tour, their thirteenth album, "First Ditch Effort," coincidentally comes at the same time other big-name punk bands (i.e. Green Day and Sum 41) release their comeback records. One can't call NOFX's new album a comeback by definition, but efforts are still made to move things forward. As opposed to El Hefe throwing down more guitar solos in the previous "Self Entitled" and "Coaster," he rarely takes the spotlight this time around (only showing off some solo skills in the intro riff of "Dead Beat Mom"), instead giving it to Fat Mike's bass riffs that steal the scene in "6 Years on Dope," "Oxy Moronic" and "I'm a Transvest-lite." And with their standard punk boxes being ticked again, from the rugged skate punker "Ditch Effort" and the "Punk in Drublic"-esque "Happy Father's Day" to the pop punk melodies in "Bye Bye Biopsy Girl" and "Sid and Nancy," other instrumental flairs are added to mix things up, like El Hefe playing a trumpet solo in "California Drought," the new wave synth melody in "It Ain't Lonely at the Bottom," and the usage of piano in "I Don't Like Me Anymore" and the somber "I'm So Sorry Tony" that draws inspiration from Fat Mike's songwriting experience gained from "Home Street Home."
Lyrics — 9
Recently speaking about hitting a breakthrough in terms of being more open and honest with his writing (which was spring-boarded by working on the band's recently-released autobiography, "NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories"), Fat Mike's lyrics in "First Ditch Effort" are even more personal and revealing than they were in the previous "Self Entitled." Whether it's Fat Mike's short but scathing "fuck you" to his deceased dad in "Happy Father's Day," his recollection of being interested in cross-dressing throughout his life in "I'm a Transvest-lite," or his feelings of self-loathing that go hand in hand with feeling like a past-his-prime musician in "I Don't Like Me Anymore" ("I turn on the TV and I don't like what I see / There's an old punk rocker acting like a jerk and that jerk looks a lot like me"), he shows much more confidence in delving into topics he used to feel uncomfortable confronting.
The biggest personal theme that comes up, however, is that of drug usage, addiction, and wanting to go clean. Detailing the grim situations of being addicted and careless in "Six Years On Dope" and "It Ain't Lonely at the Bottom," Fat Mike also jabs himself again for feeling washed up in "California Drought" ("I got the one job that it's frowned upon if you're not be a user... I'll go to a meeting and get called a loser"). But with his eulogy for the late Tony Sly of No Use For A Name in "I'm So Sorry Tony" making him look at his own risk of untimely mortality ("Tony, you make me see myself in a way I don't want to see / Do I have to stop living so recklessly / So I can be the father I know I can be?"), Fat Mike's motivation to keep clean is based on his responsibility as a parent. And though his punk pessimism towards the world and its problems - specifically regarding how the world will be when his daughter grows up - is showcased in "Generation Z," he also makes the revelation that the only thing that can be done is to go against that pessimism and inspire hope for better times ("To give them faith, to give them hope / Anything to help them cope / With their future because there's no alternative").
Overall Impression — 9
In contrast to the handful of veteran pop punk bands who've made comebacks this year to prove that they still have some fight in them - from Good Charlotte and Blink-182 to Green Day and Sum 41 - NOFX's "First Ditch Effort" is meant to show how the spirit of a long-running punk band ages over time. With their musical output being spiced up by newer music endeavors as a display of how their traditional sound grows, the subject matter in "First Ditch Effort" succeeds even more so in how the traditional life of a punk rocker is fated to change from its reckless youth. Fat Mike doesn't deny that his older age, fatherhood and attempts at sobriety make him feel out of place in the punk world he grew up in, but in his honesty, he proves that he and NOFX are still one of the most genuine acts in punk rock.