Having spent the majority of their career epitomising punk’s live fast, die young ideology, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that the latest record from Los Angeles’ NOFX is underpinned, not by an anarchic sense of debauchery, but a prevailing maturity and, dare we say it, sobriety.
This may come as something of a surprise for those whose idea of punk is still firmly rooted in the '70s and '80s and for whom downing warm ciders and piercing your nose with a safety-pin constitutes a good time, but punk's changed, and seemingly, so have NOFX.
That doesn't mean to say First Ditch Effort lacks the familiar charm of its predecessors. The breakneck riffs are still there, as is Fat Mike's trademark nasally delivery, it's just what he delivers that feels so different.
Drugs still play an important role in the record's narrative, though the frivolous way they've been dealt with in the past ("Drugs Are Good", anyone?) has been lost in favour of a more conscientious approach. The blistering back and forth between Mike and Eric Melvin on album opener "Six Years On Dope" is a prime example; the pair trying to work through their individual issues in tandem.
Elsewhere, Mike documents his personal newfound sobriety ("California Drought"), and the realisation he wanted to get sober ("I Don't Like Me Anymore") showing rare introspection from the frontman, whose lyrics, when turned towards himself, rarely go beyond wry self-deprecation. It's introspection that goes deeper than his substance abuse however. "Happy Father's Day" sees Mike vowing to end the family name, while "I'm A Transvest-lite" is him opening up about his cross-dressing habits with typical NOFX humour.
Though it seemed as if NOFX were a band impervious to both time, and the copious of amounts of pharmaceuticals they collectively consumed, things may have finally caught up with them. Often this would mark the beginning of the end for lesser bands. Here however it seems to have provided NOFX with a spark we didn't know they needed. The result is a record much darker in tone than previous outings, yet still harbours the sardonic wit that endeared us to them all those years ago. Despite the fact that once again, an idiot might well be taking over, it seems now is definitely the right time to be sober.