NOFX - Coaster
Record Label: Fat Wreck
Release Date: April 28, 2009
Winner for "Most Bad-Ass Movie About Salesmen" ever, Glengarry Glen Ross, contains several memorable quotes meant to be a verbal slap in the face to those who think, not do. Besides the clip we hear that serves as the introduction to Coaster, there are several inspired moments NOFX could have chosen as a means to indirectly imply the subject matter of the opening track. Or perhaps they could have used it as a metaphorical design to slyly reference the music industry's current lack of wit. Fat Mike, however, provides his own words to live by, and to borrow a quote spoken by Kevin Spacey's character: "You've got a big mouth... now I'm gonna show you an even bigger one."
Truth is, after 25 years of pretty much doing the same shtick, any band is going to get a little long in the Tooth Department. Like Jack Lemmon's character from the aforementioned film, Shelley has been in the game for a long time. However, he lacks freshness, feigns originality and keeps his ideas traditional rather than competing with the new school way of things (which is where Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin step in). Perhaps that's part of the reason NOFX used the quote to introduce not only their first album since 2006's Wolves in Wolves' Clothing (an album met with split reaction from fans), but the old-school L.A. punk sound of "We Called it America." Coaster is NOFX cleaning up, trying new things, but remaining true to themselves -- a feat which, love 'em or hate 'em, they have pledged and kept since day one.
Fat Mike, the band's candid residential "ist" guy (as in, vocalist/bassist/lyricist), has said the record was inspired by what initially made them start up the band. Yet once they got to work on these songs, they liked the way they sounded with cleaner notes, giving Coaster a finely-tuned sound that's melodic, at times ambitious and painlessly tamed (at 12 tracks, it barely runs at half-an-hour long). As Fat Mike puts it, the album is "a little darker and less aggressive" -- yet just as wicked and devilishly amusing.
The content hasn't changed too much, even as the band members hit middle-age. "The Quitter" and "First Call" discuss alcohol "abuse" in the form of keeping up with the times, because even the greatest artists were failures by their own hand ("You wanna be a Thompson, Hemingway, Bukowski / Banging Bill Burroughs lived to 83"). "Blasphemy (The Victimless Crime)" and "Best God in Show" tackle Christianity & Mike's own views of religious hypocrisy and close-mindedness, with the former being a lampoon on atheism as a whole ("I am a reverend of irreverence / I'm a shill for any sacrilege"). The latter song is one of NOFX's most daring musical accomplishments, blending ska & reggae rhythms (akin to what they did on "The Marxist Brothers") with minor bursts of El Hefe's frantic guitar work and Erik Sandin's steady drumbeats (which, as always, gives each song a beautiful sense of rhythmic wonderment). "One Million Coasters" does all this to lesser effect, but ends the album on a smooth & jazzy vibe (quite literally).
Notably, the band continues to fester in their own manic wisdom, feeding off their long-term success in the independent circuit by having a sense of humor with not only their own image, but also of other artists. Take "Creeping Out Sara" for instance: the tune delivers a synth-laced drunken rambling about Mike's own (awkward) encounter with one of the lesbian sisters from the folk-pop duo, Tegan & Sara. The lyrics play exactly as you think they would if, let's say, you were hammered out of your mind and you ran into a chick you heard was a lesbian, and were unsure if she was Sara... or Tegan... and if she was into Angelina Jolie (Gia was on HBO last night, ya know...). If Ric Ocasek ever asked the Cars to write a pop song with profane lyrics he wrote while drunk and/or high, this song would be the likely result. Another gem worth noting is the band's most personal tune to date, "My Orphan Year." Not only is it one of the band's best achievements musically, it's a personal triumph for Mike, as he details his feelings on the death of both his parents. One side is neglect, the other side is respect; it certainly contains vulnerability, but it's unexpected honesty truly sets it apart as the disc's highlight.
Coaster has a couple throwaway numbers by the time it comes to a close (although Iron Maiden fans are likely to get one good chuckle from "Eddie, Bruce, and Paul" upon first listen), because there's only so much territory left for NOFX to stomp around on before you want to love the new classics and go back to enjoy the old ones; their immense catalog is large enough to sustain the duds in favor of the studs. Breezy, lighter and simple, Coaster will give those who've never listened a solid base for what to expect as they learn to find the art & pure entertainment/joy in any NOFX record. It might not change the course of music today, but for a band who isn't U2 or Metallica to remain this vital and successful after nearly 30 years of making records? The real joke seems to be on all those who still have yet to appreciate 25 years of dedication, honesty & consistency. Besidies, by studio album number eleven, if nothing has convinced you to like NOFX and their music, honestly... what will?