After more than a decade of transforming the humor of adolescent ennui and discontent into a panacea for pubescent rejects everywhere, the members of NOFX are without a doubt the pop punk veterans. Attempts at imitation have been numerous but always inevitably fail to achieve the essence that has made NOFX so successful--the band pulls off bratty infectiousness and addictive melodies without trying to impress anyone but themselves.
As consistent promoters of the pumping, speedy bass drum double kick and almost-too-slick background harmonies, their musical basics are predictable and simple to model, but efforts to duplicate the never-ending barrage of titillating tales are insincere and unoriginal. NOFX always keeps one step ahead of would-be competitors by maintaining at least some variety from album to album.
Enter: So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes.
In NOFX's never unsatisfying punk evolution from hardcore hopefuls to High Priests of Pop Punk Rock, the comfortable lull has finally arrived with this new release. So Long treads no new musical territory--prepare to sit back and relax, don't wait to be jolted upright by anything exciting or surprising. Instead, happily settle into this boldly unexpansive album with its unwavering familiarity as it dips into mellow grooves and blasts out edgy numbers that have all been heard at some point. The end result is a dulling immediate satisfaction that never quite makes any sort of indelible impression.
Musically, the songs on So Long can basically be divided into two categories: brightly furious power chord attacks and funkier, brass-laden ska-themed tunes. Usually the band offers a more varied collection, such as with the two previous releases. Heavy Petting Zoo and Punk In Drublic, but not this time around. As for lyrics, traditional NOFX fare can be expected--pointless nuggets of comedy taken from lead singer Fat Mike's crazy world and critical mini-harangues that fit within the confines of the under-one-and-a-half-minute rock song. The topics have become expected and patterned, and So Long's lack of musical exploration leaves them susceptible to criticism. Hopefully the future will show that this album is simply a restful hiatus, a stepping stone for a return to or expansion of the precedent set by Heavy Petting Zoo.
Even though the tracks are void of originality, the slashing social commentary, accessible melodies and comic relief still keep the mind and ears in focus. "Monosyllabic Girl" cranks out an ecstatic 54 second love ramble, suffused with unadulterated joy for a most unusual girl ("I take her to the seaside where she likes to spin and twirl/She says sure and cool and yeah/She's my monosyllabic girl"). On a more critical note, the scathing, frenetic "It's My Job to Keep Punk Rock Elite" opens So Long with fiery skate punk underground attack on corporate A&R sharks, summed up in the song's closing dictate, "This music ain't your fuckin' industry."
"180 Degrees" follows in the same lyrical vein as "Punk Rock Elite," but the streamlined punk sound takes a few breaks for lighter, bass-heavy breakdowns, a musical influence that blossoms in later tracks. Fat Mike questions society in traditional punk fashion ("It's so easy to defend the status quo/With everyone so cool and cynical/But when you see the end don't justify the means") as the slow funk beat transforms into a crashing, supercharged rhythm.
Capitalizing on the reggae theme, the Marley-esque "Eat the Meek" champions a bass lullaby and a guitar characteristically accenting the off beats, so subtly that it seems almost like an afterthought. Although this may be the most adventurous song, it can't make up for the album's overall lack of effort.
In contrast to the sedate beauty of "Eat the Meek"'s groove, the most unforgivable part of So Long is the blatant reuse of previously released material. Although they are wonderfully brief and raucous additions, "Murder the Government" and "I'm Telling Tim" are cut-and-paste replicas of songs from the Fuck the Kids EP that came out late last year. Nothing could scream laziness more, except splicing distinctive harmony from another NOFX album onto So Long. Well, the band does just that. The vocal cascade at the end of "All Outta Angst" is recycled straight from "Leave It Alone" o Punk In Drublic.
So Long and Thanks for All the Show draws on the defining traits of NOFX but is certainly no probing perspective of the band's musical history. Pick a Cl from NOFX's otherwise sparkling collection and spin that a few times until the next album arrives. The wait may take awhile, but the future release couldn't be any less uneventful than So Long.