So here we are, NOFX's 10th studio album, 3 years on from 2003's War On Errorism. Bush got re-elected, so anyone not expecting more political-themed punk rock is probably in need of urgent brain surgery.
At 44 minutes, with 18 official tracks, it's one of the band's longest releases to date and could probably benefit from being trimmed of its excess fat (I'm sure there's a Fat Mike pun in there somewhere). Appropriately, the album's opening and closing tracks, "60%" and "60% (Reprise)", give an accurate figure as to how much of this record should have made the final cut.
As my fellow reviewer acknowledges, the band have moved on lyrically to an almost, well, mature outlook about their own music, and that's a word I never thought I'd type in a NOFX review. They address other bands "beef" with them, most notably Propagandhi's impressive critique in their track "Rock For Sustainable Capitalism' on their recent Potemkin City Limits release. Fat Mike's song about rich liberals doesn't manage to hit back quite as powerfully though, despite one-liners ("I'm waiting to see if my bid on eBay was enough / To get "Today's Empires Are Tomorrow's Ashes" on soviet red vinyl"). As with much of their politics, other bands come off sounding smarter and better informed than NOFX.
Much of NOFX's lyrical bile is directed at the conservative Christian right, most notably in "Leaving Jesusland'. Again, the meaning is somewhat lost as Mike begins critiquing Christianity as a whole rather than the extreme right wing fundamentalists that are the real targets of his lyrics. Stupid lines like "Where is your God now?" don't carry much weight and despite the music being the typical NOFX we all know and love (or hate), the lyrics sound lazy and egotistical.
"Cool And Unusual Punishment' sounds like a tribute to the band's recent new tour favourite, Japan, and "Cantado En Espanol" is a tongue-in-cheek insult to the majority of NOFX fans, unable to speak Spanish. Included in what I can only hope is an equally tongue-in-cheek gesture is the fucking awful "Instant Crassic'. Lyrics include such memorable and poignant lines as:
I'm swimming in a sea of pee
I'm hiking up a big mountain of poo
I feel like rolling in glass when I'm without you
"One Celled Creature' is a slight departure for the band, breaking away from their template of fast kick drum, standard "punk' chords and wah-wah guitar leads, instead utilising a slow beat and call-and-repeat vocals. It's interesting to see the band attempt to deviate from their formula. Equally different is "The Man I Killed", a bouncy semi-acoustic song that's like a cartoony Against Me!.
Overall, this record is probably better than you thought it was going to be, but not much better. There's less instruments present than on 2003's outing, most notably the absence of guitarist El Hefe's trumpet, but as the band themselves acknowledge on the pre-album teaser release, Never Trust A Hippy EP, "[our] band has been a band longer than the Ramones". By now they know their audience and their sound pretty well, and it's likely that you do too. This release won't surprise you.
At this point, NOFX know where they stand in their musical career. That much is obvious not only when you see them play a show, but also when you listen to the final track of Wolves In Wolves' Clothing, "60% (Reprise)". There's no dancing around the subject with ambiguous or pretentious lyrics that make you think "Yeah, I'm pretty sure he's talking about his own band", Fat Mike tells it like it is:
We're the band with our own label / That's money under the table,
that's answering to no one / But still, other bands just love to hate us /
Talking shit behind us, but smiling to our face
That said, the music on Wolves stays true to the style NOFX cemented over a decade ago on the classic Punk in Drublic. The songs are sometimes fast ("Benny Got Blowed Up"), sometimes slower ("The Marxist Brothers"), other times unpredictable ("One Celled Creature") and still other times immature ("Instant Crassic"), but the lyrics are always intelligent and never totally serious.
Speaking of lyrics, they are what earned this record the score it received. Fat Mike has sharpened his writing skills down to a fine point, and it shows. The songs "USA-Holes", "We March to the Beat of an Indifferent Drum" and "Wolves In Wolves' Clothing" are great examples of clever writing and excellent commentary. "The Marxist Brothers" is a retaliation of sorts directed at Propagandhi, who on their most recent release criticized Fat Mike in the song "Rock For Sustainable Capitalism". The song is humorous, but I think Propagandhi's song was a bit more scathing.
To follow 2003's The War on Errorism, which was a direct and deliberate criticism of the Bush administration and the most political record the band has produced, NOFX have taken a less hardcore route this time out when it comes to social commentary. Don't fret, the intelligent and tongue-in-cheek bashing of our government is still present in tracks such as "USA-Holes", "We March to the Beat of an Indifferent Drum" and "The Man I Killed", but it's less of a focus for this record.
Another difference is that Fat Mike is not always the one delivering the vocals. El Hefe sings "Cantado en Espanol" (translates to "I sing in Spanish") and surprisingly, Eric Melvin lends his vocal "talent" (if you can call it that) to "One Celled Creature". Melvin also throws in what seems to be more back-up lines than ever before throughout the entire record. Listen for that off-key scream and you'll know it's him.
I think it deserves to be explained that the song "Doornails" is a tribute to those who are no longer with us, but left their marks on punk music. Using Lagwagon and Strung Out song titles, the acoustic number talks about the deaths of Derrick Plourde and Jim Cherry respectively as well as (from what I have gathered) the members of RKL (Rich Kids on LSD) that have died. It's a fitting tribute to those musicians.
My only gripe is minor, but I think other fans will agree when I ask: "Where's the trumpet?" El Hefe's trumpet has always added an extra dimension to NOFX records (even if it's only used in one or two songs) ever since he started including it. A little horn couldn't have hurt in the bluesy intro to "Wolves In Wolves' Clothing" or in the Beatles-inspired "The Marxist Brothers". Just a thought.
What it comes down to is this: Wolves In Wolves' Clothing is a NOFX album, and there's not really any other way to describe it. If you were not a fan before this album, you're not going to change your mind. On the other hand if you are a NOFX fan, you should buy this because it's them doing what they do best: playing catchy melodic punk.
7.9 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
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