Many modern rock songwriters often choose not to lyricise their own personal lives in painful, self-reflective detail. Luckily, there are still some anomalies in the mix.
Single Album is the 14th record from Los Angeles’ punk icons NOFX, who have now been around for nearly 40 years. Certain qualities of theirs, like the fast and blatant provocations expressed through the rasping voice of their frontman, Fat Mike (Michael Burkett), have attributed a fervent cult following for the four-piece. They now occupy a domain in which Mike can lyricise sharp socio-political and anti-Christian rhetoric while baring his soul in surgically-deep, poetic slices.
Its title derives from NOFX withholding 13 songs that would have made the release their first proper double album. These songs were apparently ‘happier’. Through this exclusion, the album was concentrated down into a dark body of work. Single Album was recorded at Motor Studios in San Francisco, with Bill Stevenson (Descendents), and Jason Livermore (Rise Against).
In light of NOFX’s long history of controversy, remaining fans are pushed to feel uncomfortable again in the span of Single Album’s free-form first track, a nihilistic number called The Big Drag. “This is what happens when you write lyrics at four in the morning when you’re on vodka and coke”, Mike stated in a recent interview. When the slow, rising tension finally breaks with drummer Erik ‘Smelly’ Sandin’s cymbals cresting the guitars, we are once again thrust into the mood of ‘a melee with no concern’, (a line from 2004’s Wore Out My Party Pants).
Prior to this, opening lyrics address the recent death of Jimmy Dread (James Rhine), a horror-obsessed synth-pop musician from Washington DC. He is just one of a handful of deceased rockers to be referenced in the album. The two most poignantly preserved are Adolescents’ Steve Soto (1963-2018), in Grieve Soto, and No Use For A Name’s Tony Sly (1970-2012), in Linewleum, who was previously mourned in I’m So Sorry Tony from 2016’s First Ditch Effort, the last NOFX album.
Through incorporating a main theme of personal loss, it’s no real surprise that Single Album is the first album for Fat Mike to ever write and record while suffering from deep depression, pre-rehab last year. While not being a serious drug user in the past, his depression was worsened by a substance abuse problem that developed after a UK tour in mid-2015, discussed lyrically in Birmingham. Mike was later hospitalised in October 2020, due to somehow contracting chlamydia of the stomach.
Another drug-based reflection of Mike’s is voiced on Doors and Fours, in which he signifies his luck in surviving the plight of teenage overdose from Codeine 4 and Doriden pills in Los Angeles’ infamous early 80’s punk scene.
Meanwhile, Fuck Euphemism addresses Fat Mike’s sexual orientation as a crossdressing ‘kinkster’ who regularly practices BDSM. It begins with the recount of a “gender pronoun bar fight” in a location in which Mike’s queer status was publicly undervalued before he did a line of cocaine off of the vagina of a trans-dominatrix, Scarlett Sin, a former marine who served in Bosnia. The topic of gun violence is addressed on Single Album’s fourth track, Fish in a Gun Barrel, another rhythmically tricky reggae number which makes the following point – “Only a lunatic would sell a lunatic a gun”. The most popular song of NOFX’s entire career “decomposes” in Linewleum, a meta reworking of Linoleum from 1994’s Punk In Drublic, set loosely to its original music and released with two music videos compiled of global Linoleum cover footage from the semi-famous to the unknown. With lyrics marvelling at the fact that the song became a massive hit while lacking rhyming lyrics and a chorus, Linewleum playfully “fucks with peoples’ heads” with wild personal insight and humour. Another twisted true story compliments My Bro Cancervive Cancer, which was written after pleas from a fan wanting a song about him, claiming he had terminal brain cancer. This was before Mike was told thatEast Bay Brett had been scamming other bands with the same story for ten years.
To save the heaviest hitters for last, the remaining two songs deal with Mike’s processing of a bad relationship breakup. Second track I Love You More Than I Hate Me contains one of the album’s best riffs and returns us to the classic NOFX sound after the existential trials of The Big Drag. It addresses a toxic connection to someone who was “intimate without intimacy”. Bookended with piano, closing track Your Last Resort finds Mike in a depressed, drunken state while further regretting a relationship’s toxicity, as the most personal track on the album. Departing in sorrow, Mike closes Single Album with the line, “I thought I’d be the last person you’d ever court, not just your last resort”. In between the sombre piano however, NOFX actually deliver some of the fastest music of the record, along with Linewleum and Grieve Soto.
It’s increasingly apparent that musical ferocity and twisted fun help all members of NOFX to cope with their inner conflicts in socially-conscious ways. We experience the band playing some of the meanest musical progressions of their career in Single Album, while its lyrical content proves that Fat Mike has really matured emotionally.
After his decades of offence aimed at others, the person to be most confronted here by Fat Mike is Michael Burkett.
The Big Drag
I Love You More Than I Hate Me
Fish In A Gun Barrel
My Bro Cancervive Cancer
Doors And Fours
Your Last Resort
The Big Drag