It says much for the vocabulary that we now accept as being part of life, that when I first received something a month or two back about this, I immediately thought: “oh, it’ll be one of those lockdown things.”
It turns out, though that “West Coast vs Wessex” is nothing of the sort and Fat Mike had approached Frank Turner about doing this last year, in the glory days before anyone knew what lockdown was.
Having established that, another question remains. Why. To which, the only answer, surely is “why not?” Turner is a fan of NOFX and NOFX are fans of Frank Turner, plus they have a long standing friendship.
Crucially, though, neither band does them as straight covers. Instead – rather like Supersuckers and Steve Earle when they did something similar – they turn each other’s songs into things that they would do.
Fat Mike is charmingly self-deprecating about it “I can’t sing like Frank, but I can put in a chord that he hasn’t thought of”, which I’ll translate: “We are a superbly original band with our own ideas.”
Indeed, precisely one minute three seconds into “Substitute” NOFX rip out a punk riff and you instantly know this is going to be superb – and the fact they change the last line to “tied up next to me” shows the vibe here.
“Worse Things Happen At Sea” is turned into a chugging rocker, and “Thatcher Fucked The Kids” (all of which is true, the evil bitch) is made into a ska punk anthem, while retaining its political power even to this day (and a questionable English accent, cor blimey guvnor).
“Ballad Of Me And My Friends” always sounds gleeful anyway. Here, it sounds like an explosion in the Skittles factory and the same is true of “Glory Hallelujah”. It builds, on the back of an Elton John-esque piano, to a soaring hymn to atheism, which it always was, I suppose, just here it comes at it differently.
I am a fan of both acts, but it would be fair to say – given the amount of albums of his that I’ve reviewed and how many times I’ve seen him live – that I am more familiar with Turner’s work, which meant I listened with interest to his five NOFX tunes.
The fact is that he could have released them as the next Sleeping Souls record and if you didn’t own “Punk In Drublic” and the likes you’d never know. “Scavenger Type” was an obvious choice for this treatment in a way, but it sounds like a Turner original.
“Bob” – the lament on alcoholism – is made into a Springsteen-ish thing with its harmonica. The way he does “Eat The Meek” is interesting, given that it is more “indie” for want of a better word, than you’d imagine, and “Perfect Government” (again one that when he covers it, makes perfect sense) is perhaps the pick of Turner’s section, and he takes it into a sort of more sweary mid-period Billy Bragg kind of place.
Obviously a genuine fan, that is shown, perhaps in the last one the wistful, floating “Falling In Love” not the kind of raucous end you’d imagine – and certainly a contrast to the final one Nofx do – but then this wasn’t really the kind of album that did what you expected either.
There’ll be those who sniff and say “what’s the point?” but that misses the point and does so massively. This is a record that only gets made by people that love music – and there is no better reason than that.