Label: Fat Wreck Records
Assuming you’ve been doing things right, NOFX is a band that requires no introduction. Self/Entitled is the twelfth studio album from the prolific Californian group and even after all this time, it remains consistently astonishing to see how alive and electric their work is. There’s no trace of fatigue on the record, with lyrics as biting and pointed as ever and music that’s exhilarating and relentless. It makes for a breathless and thought-provoking listen as the words take aim at religious fanaticism, sexism, and societal flaws, all set to a backdrop of vicious guitar solos that enhance and elevate the tracks above the norm. The music can be a touch repetitious at times but when the real material lies in the words it’s easy to overlook this, particularly as everything is set to the kind of blistering tempo that leaves one gasping for air. In effect, the album is nothing new by any means, but it does add another compelling chapter to a well-known catalogue and at its best makes for a sublime listen.
One of its finer moments arrives with the first song, “72 Hookers,” which tackles extremism (fittingly enough, in a week when it’s become rather topical). Stark, blunt, and vicious, the lyrics are delivered in Fat Mike’s characteristically frank manner and anchor the rapidly escalating music in a subject matter that’s difficult but impassioned. “Ronnie & Mags” has similarly serious undertones and deadpan backing vocals to go along with the lead. This blank singing style barely changes key or tone throughout and allows tracks to seize attention that much more. Rather than predicating everything on a kind of false emotion, it’s alert and emphatic with the confrontational boldness that underscores most conventional punk. When the guitars let loose later on, the song develops a sizzling potency that hammers home the sharpness of the words. A bittersweet note seems to creep into “She Didn’t Lose Her Baby,” which made an appearance earlier this year on a non-album single release. Fat Mike sounds slightly more concerned or involved here than in other tracks, with the quick-fire nature of the instruments lending it a distressed air that befits the theme.
This element of sobriety or darkness becomes more prevalent as the record goes on, so that much of Self/Entitled is brimming with a kind of unhappy resignation. Tracks such as “I, Fatty” and “Down with the Ship” seem grim in spite of the pace and energy of the music. The lyrics are downbeat and sometimes confrontational, evoking a kind of deep-set rage that makes the songs unsettling at times. Others are slower in pace and stick out wildly next to the rushing velocity of earlier songs. “Secret Society” is particularly good because it’s different. The track is slower and serious and comes across as intense and severe as a result. “I’ve Got One Jealous Again, Again” isn’t the greatest but it too has a similar impact for its muted musical approach.
It’s in this manner that Self Entitled (and indeed, NOFX) makes for such a compelling listen as it has far deeper significance than the brief track times and adrenaline-fuelled guitars would imply. It manages to tackle heady subjects in two minutes and infuse tracks with an unsuspected and natural power without having to dwell upon them or add the token backing effects. There’s no need for pretention or sentimentalism as it is strong and gruff and pursues its subjects fearlessly.
This is more light-hearted at times than the above might suggest, but hardly a disposable listen. It mightn’t change your life but it’ll give you plenty to think about and some riveting musicianship to appreciate along the way.
Review written by Grace Duffy