Sunday, April 17, 2011

April 17: NOFX, "Linoleum"

Artist: NOFX
Song: "Linoleum"
Album: Punk In Drublic
Year: 1994

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While there are a handful of common elements that bond together almost every artist or band that "makes it big," one of the most disappointing trends is watching bands begin to take themselves and their music far too seriously.  Over the course of history, one can point to countless bands that seem to have sucked all the "fun" out of their sound as their career progressed, and it often seems that once a band "makes it," that they forget that one of the main points of being in a band is to have a good time.  Thankfully, there are a handful of groups that have managed to keep their attitude intact, even as they climbed to greater success, and few bands have held this balance more firmly than California punk legends, NOFX.  For nearly three decades, the band has been pumping out their own blend of ska, punk, and "Oi!" style rock, and alongside their amazing energy, there has always been a very unsubtle grin within their presence and lyrics.  Over that time period, the band has released more than a dozen studio and live recordings, and one can easily argue that the group hit their stride with their fantastic 1994 album, Punk In Drublic.  Filled with many of their most memorable songs, the energy on the album never lets up at any point, and even more than twenty years later, it still holds its own with nearly any other punk album.  Though one can make the case for a number of songs on the album being the bands' "best," one can quickly understand why NOFX are held in such high regard within their 1994 song, "Linoleum."

Serving as the lead song on Punk In Drublic, few albums are defined quicker than one finds here, as the first thing the listener hears is a powerful, high energy guitar riff from El Hefe.  He is quickly joined by the bands' other guitarist, Eric Melvin, and the duo roll out one of the most invigorating guitar lines ever, and one can quickly feel how such playing would have instantly set any audience into a frenzy.  In many ways, this is the "point" of NOFX's brand of punk, as there is a sheer elation that comes forth int heir playing, and one gets the sense that they write their music for their audience as much as they do for themselves.  Also showing that the punk ethos is still alive and well, the band forgoes any unnecessary solos or other "filler," and "Linoleum" stands as two-and-a-half minutes of pure punk bliss.  Adding fuel to this vigorous sonic assault is the bass of Fat Mike and drummer Erik Sandin, and they remain today one of the most potent rhythm sections in the history of punk rock.  The way in which Sandin seems to be trying to "out run" the band, pushing them to an almost break-neck speed, never relenting for even a moment on "Linoleum."  It is the combination of their musical precision and almost breathtaking speed that makes NOFX one of the few bands that have been able to capture their live energy within a studio, and it has rarely sounded more perfect than on "Linoleum."

Along with handling bass duties, Fat Mike (AKA Michael Burkett) has risen to become one of the most iconic vocalists in the history of punk rock.  Without question, Fat Mike possesses one of the most distinctive voices of the punk genre, and there is also an "every man" sense to this vocal performances.  Bringing an energy that matches that of the music over which he sings, Fat Mike makes no excuses for his sound, and it is this raw, authentic feel that has earned NOFX such a fervent following.  The bands' want to keep a bit of humor in their sound comes through most clearly within the writing of Fat Mike, and there are few lyricists who are able to be as socially aware and inject some tongue-in-cheek lines as perfectly as one finds within his words.  There are also countless examples across the NOFX catalog where Fat Mike gets philosophical, writing far deeper lyrics than a majority of his peers, and this is very much the case on "Linoleum."  Though one may be quick to overlook the words as he belts them out, one can find a rather refreshing, simplistic message with his signing, as Fat Mike seems to argue that there is a great deal of joy to be found within a more modest, if not sparse lifestyle.  In fact, there are few lines that are more "punk" than when Fat Mike sings, "...possessions never meant anything to me, I'm not crazy well that's not true, I've got a bed, and a guitar..."  The bands' love for humor appears later, when he refers to ripping off a parking meter, and it is this balance, as well as the way in which Fat Mike presents it, that makes "Linoleum" such a brilliant musical work.

As the decades have passed since the release of Punk In Drublic, "Linoleum" has found its way into a number of parts of popular culture, making appearances in a handful of video games, as well as being referenced (rather oddly) on the TV show, One Tree Hill.  Yet even without these other appearances, there is little arguing against the songs' power and lasting impact, as it retains these qualities even with the passage of time and repeated listenings.  It is this fact that separates both the song, as well as NOFX as a band, from their peers, as in most cases, songs begin to lose their potency as the years pass.  This further support just why NOFX are so revered by other bands, and why they are still able to command large audiences more than thirty years after the band first formed.  In many ways, one can point directly to the bands' lighter attitude as the reason they have survived all this time, as other groups that take themselves too seriously seem to burn themselves out as they try to "stay true" to the image they have created.  Instead of falling into this trap, NOFX have always taken the "this is who we are" approach, and this sense of honesty and lighter mood remains evident to this day.  While there are a number of songs within the catalog of NOFX that have become "classics" of the punk style, few pack the musical punch and better define the group than one finds in their sensational 1994 song, "Linoleum."

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