- Sunshine Tucker; Photo Illustration: Sue Kwong
- Reader staffer Luca Cimarusti binged on NOFX and lived to tell the tale.
This spring, the Reader got an advance copy of NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories, written by the band with Jeff Alulis (aka late-period Dead Kennedys singer Jeff Penalty). It wound up in my hands, so of course I read the whole thing.
The book is a memoir a la Motley Crue’s The Dirt, and it details every up and down the popular California band has gone through since its inception in (holy shit) 1983. It’s a pretty entertaining read, diving into harrowing tales of desperation and addiction, explaining a wildly violent hardcore scene, and chronicling the struggles of a bunch of grimy punks in a pre-Nirvana world.
The book also details NOFX’s incredible successes, and how their DIY approach (not relying on radio play or major-label support) has managed to make them very wealthy.
The big question I had by the end of The Hepatitis Bathtub was “Is NOFX any good?” I mean, I dug the band when I was 14 or 15, but I haven’t given them a whole lot of thought since 1999. The best way to answer that question definitively, I decided, would be to listen to all 13 of their studio albums in a row. I can’t imagine what I was thinking.
Liberal Animation (1988) Not a bad start, all things considered. I find a lot of things about this record bothersome (the nonstop complaining about vegetarians, the tongue-in-cheek ripoff of Zep’s “Black Dog,” the fucking ska part), but it’s mostly the kind of fast, snotty hardcore-ish punk I aspired to play when I was in junior high.
S&M Airlines (1989) Oh no, the dreaded sophomore slump. This album is very terrible. Sloppy punk rock with a baffling edge of hair-metal shredding, topped off with some of the most brutally out-of-key vocals I’ve ever heard. The lowest point might be the closing cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way.” Woof.
Ribbed (1991) Also a painful listen. It’s similar to its predecessor, but packed with cringe-inducingly childish lyrics and straight-up joke songs, including one where front man Fat Mike explains at length how much he hates taking showers.
White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean (1992) A lot of NOFX heads apparently consider this a classic, but I’m having a very hard time with it. I mean, it’s leaps and bounds better than Ribbed, but it’s by no means great. Still present is the weird 80s-metal vibe, and the album is seriously half joke songs—including a lounge cover of Minor Threat’s “Straight Edge” with guitarist El Hefe doing a Louis Armstrong impression.
Punk in Drublic (1994) Whoah, what happened here? Suddenly NOFX got good. For the first time in this ridiculous undertaking, I’m not totally hating my life.
Heavy Petting Zoo (1996) Definitely a turning point for the band. This is the sound of NOFX growing up: thoughtful lyrical content, experimentation with genres other than pop punk and ska, and really great melodies. Who knew I’d get so much enjoyment out of a record whose cover art is a painting of a guy fingerbanging a sheep?
So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes (1997) Dude, maybe this is the NOFX talking, but I’m pretty sure NOFX rules. This is a legitimately excellent 90s skate-punk record, front to back. I even kind of dig the obligatory ska track.
Pump Up the Valuum (2000) Oh no. I knew it was going to happen eventually, but I didn’t think it was going to happen so soon: all this shit is starting to blend together. And I don’t think it has anything to do with the fact that I’ve listened to a decade’s worth of warp-speed skate punk in three hours. I think NOFX stopped trying.
The War on Errorism (2003) The most of-its-time NOFX record, The War on Errorism is largely about keeping George W. Bush from winning a second term. As someone who’s staring down the barrel of a possible Trump presidency, though, I can’t even begin to give a fuck about this thing.
Wolves in Wolves’ Clothing (2006) I am starting to resent NOFX. The opening track of this record, “60%,” comes right out and says that the band doesn’t really care, and it shows. The whole thing is a snooze—and maybe I’m thinking about it too much, but I’m actually sort of insulted. Oh no, NOFX is hurting my feelings now.
Coaster (2009) Remember back in 1996, when I said that NOFX had grown up? Well, they’ve apparently put out so many records that we get to hear them growing up twice. Maybe my brain has been poisoned by listening to so much of this shit, but I think I might really like this one. It’s kind of dark and “mature,” and the songs are pretty sweet.
Self Entitled (2012) My brain has officially gone numb. I have no idea what’s even happening on this one. I’m pretty sure it sounds like NOFX, though.
First Ditch Effort (2016) Judging by the lyrics on this album, which drops in October, Fat Mike has gotten sober—and he’s very open about it. Good for him, but when was the last time you heard a good post-sobriety record? Remember Generation Swine? v