You’re Welcome is the debut solo album from Cokie the Clown, AKA, Mike Burkett, AKA, Fat Mike from NOFX. But make no mistake this is not a NOFX album. This isn’t NOFX-lite or some weird iteration of the wackiness that we all know and love. This… this is something else entirely.
Lars von Trier once said that a film should be like a rock in a shoe. And that’s exactly what this album is. It’s uncomfortable and abrasive, raw and painful. In fact, it’s kind of an unpleasant experience. And while that sounds like a bad thing, it’s really not. This is an invitation inside the mind of one of punk rock’s most infamous icons. You could say that it’s almost auto-biographical, snapshots into the moments that shaped Mike’s life in sad and often confronting ways.
You’re Welcome features a number of collaborators including Travis Barker (you know who he is), Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses (remember them?), and Baz – the genius behind the orchestral cover of NOFX’s The Decline. It was also produced by Danny Lohner whose resume includes Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle and even freakin’ Eminem. So, there’s certainly some talent behind the scenes here, but at the end of the day Mike’s own voice is what takes centre stage – not just literally, but stylistically too. All of the musical choices here are very low key, never aiming to really actively hook into you, but to guide you through the moments – almost like a soundtrack.
While this record is certainly new ground for Mike, it definitely feels connected to the territory NOFX explored with First Ditch Effort (2016). The record tackled more personal issues and was much less aggressive than releases they had put out in the past. Mike also shifted his vocal style slightly for that record, adopting a slightly more direct approach to his lyrics, which is exactly where he goes with this record. But that directness is pretty much the extent of the similarities. Because direct is what the album is. Hell, there’s barely single simile used, let alone a metaphor. Mike is upfront with every dark and disturbing memory he brings up. And Mike certainly brings up a lot of painful memories. From a song about literally killing his own mother, to songs about his failed relationships – it can be a tough listen.
But there’s beauty in the pain. The compositions are subtly exquisite, and no two songs sound remotely similar to each other. The arrangements vary remarkably, from acapella to piano to guitar and drums – it never repeats itself and is always going in different directions. Even when revisiting ‘Down with the Ship’ from the 2012 NOFX album, Self Entitled, the record sticks to its very unique guns and turns a relatively upbeat song into something haunting.
Overall this isn’t the record for everybody. Even die-hard NOFX fans are going to be taken aback by what Mike has accomplished with You’re Welcome. It’s rare for someone to be this honest and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s something that doesn’t resonate that well with everyone. But if you turn it on and listen you’ll be in for something real. And in 2019 real is something we probably need. This might not be the Fat Mike record you want, but it’s the one you deserve. It’s a big oversize rock in a big oversize clown shoe and it’s not going to be ignored. For me, it’s something special, but your mileage may vary. Enjoy.