On the surface, 2016's First Ditch Effort sounds like business as usual for NOFX -- dirt-simple but gleefully tuneful melodies, big chugging guitars, deep rubbery bass, and chunky, muscular drumming, all in the time-tested SoCal manner. It's when you start paying attention to the lyrics that the surprises on First Ditch Effort make themselves known.
Fat Mike is no less of a goofball than ever here, but he's a goofball with his heart on his sleeve who wants to open up. He's trying to get past drinking and drugs ("Six Years on Dope," "California Drought"), he's coming out as a cross-dresser ("I'm a Transvest-lite"), he's got pretty serious self-esteem issues ("I Don't Like Me Anymore"), he's angry about the pharmaceutical industry ("Oxy Moronic"), and he's afraid of the future his kids will have to live in ("Generation Z").
While Fat Mike is dealing with heavier themes than one might expect, a lot of the time he still sees what's funny about it all, like a clown who's still folding balloon animals on the deck of the Titanic. And when he isn't going for laughs (as in "Generation Z" and his tribute to a fallen friend, "I'm So Sorry Tony"), he sounds sincere, no small achievement for a guy who has been trading in sarcasm since 1983.
First Ditch Effort isn't a radical step forward for NOFX -- they're still a punk band who smirk more than they shout -- but it does successfully take them into a more thoughtful direction, and shows they can mature just a bit and still be themselves.