The resurgence and mainstream acceptance of punk that emerged in the 1990s can be attributed to many things- but it is undoubtedly hard to look past at some of the individuals that would ultimately become the face of a genre’s revival. One such individual is, of course, NOFX frontman Fat Mike, who on the back of an already successful career with the band, hit new heights with the release of 1994’s Punk in Drublic. While it did not reach the kind of levels Dookie or Smash did, Punk in Drublic’s Gold-selling status is made even more incredible with the fact that it was all essentially, because of the content of the record and word of mouth. While Green Day and the Offspring became the namesakes of the mainstream punk explosion, NOFX continued its mantle as the clown princes of the underground. They never seemed to waver from their brand of humor, snotty attitude, and anti-establishment persona. Fat Mike, of course, was the spearhead for every controversial story that involved the band- from no interviews to never signing to a major label, Fat Mike was always and above, the crux and centerpiece of the band.
Over the years we have gotten to “know” Fat Mike as the label head of long-running independent label Fat Wreck Chords. We got to know his politics with Punk Voter, we know that he likes to crossdress, doesn’t mind a little S&M, and was never shy of being controversial on stage, on record, or afraid to feud with other artists from all genres. This was the public’s version of who Fat Mike is, but it wasn’t until we met Cokie the Clown back in 2010 that we finally got to see the man behind Fat Mike. At first, Cokie the Clown was just an eye-opening character who released an EP and made a noted appearance at SXSW. It is not until now that we finally get to see and hear the real Cokie the Clown.
“I peeled my fuckin’ skin off for this record,” says Fat Mike. And it is that level of honesty and openness that defines You’re Welcome. The album, 10 songs of gut-wrenching vaudevillian punk, is as brutally open as a personal record can get. It is not a NOFX record by any means. And if you’re looking for NOFX’s melodic, attitude-filled punk blasts of politics, social commentary, and humor, then you’re better off listening to Punk in Drublic or The War On Errorism. Instead, You’re Welcome is perhaps the most unconventional punk record of recent times. While you’ve heard “Punk Rock Saved My Life”, the rest of the album doesn’t veer into punk’s guitar-heavy urgency. Instead, choosing to adopt orchestral compositions and theatrical histrionics that occasionally sees heavy rock influences (“Negative Reel”), but relies more on sad piano reflections and string-based melancholia. The truth is, You’re Welcome is not a happy record at all. Whether it is the painful family memories of “The Time I Killed My Mom” (“Yes please end it sweetie / I can’t live with this much pain / I’d like to die surrounded by the people I most love / I brought you in to this world you gotta take me out”), the rough and tumble relationships of his life (“Pre-Arranged Marriage”) or the acoustic, heavier sound of the rather self-explanatory “Fuck You All”, You’re Welcome is as he says in the song, the music of a sad clown.
The album may be anything but a NOFX record, but what’s more punk rock than writing a punk rock record that doesn’t sound like a punk rock record? Sure, it’s nice that Travis Barker drums on the record, and that Guns N’ Roses alum Dizzy Reed is the featured keyboardist, but in reality, You’re Welcome makes an impact because Fat Mike’s unrelenting honesty and unconventional approach to lyricism and songwriting is still ever-present, just done a little differently. And the results are captivating, eye-opening, and filled with the oft heartbreaking reality of being human. Rarely if ever, has someone in his position been so personally open on a record- and rarely has a person been as free, or care-free, about the consequences to do so. But the work he has cultivated as a self-made man means that he’s reached a level where he can. And ultimately for the genre, You’re Welcome is both vital and groundbreaking.
“Punk Rock Saved My Life” is a wonderful anthemic song, the summation of Fat Mike’s life, family and history- all parts of the puzzle that made him the influential, globe-conquering punk singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur. NOFX fans will know that throughout his discography he’s written songs about how good it is to be Fat Mike (“Thank God It’s Monday”) and for the last 30+ years we’ve gotten to know Fat Mike as an antagonist, provocateur, and iconoclast. But for the first time in all these years, we’re finally getting to know Mike Burkett.
Void of Vision – Hyperdaze
An adventurous exploration of sound that takes the listener on a dark and powerful journey
Void Of Vision, from Melbourne Australia, have been on the fringe of breaking out in the Australian heavy scene for as long as I have been listening to music. While they have clearly got a massive audience, it has always been a question of why aren’t they bigger? It has seemed like they have struggled to find their place within the churning machine that is the Aussie scene, and in the lead up to this release it felt like, as a fan, it was make or break for them. And now, sitting here after having Hyperdaze on repeat ever since I received it, I am happy to say they have found themselves, and they are about to take off.
Hyperdaze features an adventurous exploration of sound that takes the listener on a dark and powerful journey through the entity that is Void Of Vision. Making it immediately evident that they are taking a spookier approach to their sound with this album, Hyperdaze with the ominous and atmospheric intro track, “Overture”. The slow build of this leads perfectly into the opening hits of “Year Of The Rat”. Immediately punching you in the face with a mix of growling guitars and massive drums, this headbang inducing rhythm alone is enough to set the nightmarish tone for the rest of the album. An atmosphere filled with intensity reigns through the verses, and is released only for a mesmerising sung chorus, that while is nothing ground-breaking, will stick in your head for hours.
“Babylon” opens with a maniacal fast paced intro, leading up to a dreamlike swaying verse. Heavy and hard, it maintains this high level of pressure all the way through to the demonic breakdown that makes up almost half the song. Only 2 minutes long, “Babylon” is short yet sharp. Transitioning fluently into “If Only”, this extra fast paced track implements extra usage of the added dark synth that they’ve merely flirted with thus far. The verses feel like they are throwing you back and forth, as the frantic tempo adds a maniacal edge to the track before it flows into the chorus. One issue that I personally have had with Void over the years, is their sung choruses can sometimes have jarring effects, and can seem like they interrupt and resultingly dissolve any momentum that they had previously built up in the verses. I’m happy to say that through Hyperdaze they have found the balance, and every chorus flows perfectly throughout each song that is relevant. As well as a gorgeous chorus and strong verses, “If Only” features a rare but welcome guitar solo that is a tonne of fun.
“Slave To The Name” closely follows, and is a slower but more mechanical take on the darkness. Injecting a healthy dose of panicky guitars, screeching vocals, and gut-wrenching drums straight into our veins, it leads us perfectly into the absolute fucking vibe that is “Adrenaline”. Clocking in at 1 minute and 31 seconds, this synth-heavy dance track is a wild time from start to finish. Grooving and moving their way into the electronic and house scene, Void of Visionhave now raised the question, “Could Void Sell Out Revs?” Instrumental and well out of left field, “Adrenaline” is the most eyebrow raising and most fun song off the entire album.
Lead single “Hole In Me” is the one that got everyone especially excited for this release, and for good reason. Unrelenting in tone, it was the first sign that Void were about to take the next step up. Bouncy and frantic and featuring some of the snappier snare hits you will find, “Hole In Me” remains to be one of the strongest song releases of the year. “Kerosene Dream” shows the band getting extra inventive with their guitars, and while it is chock full of fun riffs, what predominately draws the listeners ears to it will undoubtedly be the ridiculously tough blast beats, and the ridiculously tough breakdowns.
Psychedelic and cybertronic-baby vocal effects reign through the verses of “Decay” and maintain that the freshness of this sound doesn’t stale towards the end of the album. “Splinter” is opened up with the return of the, to put it in professional terms, “fucking sick” blastbeats that have popped their heads up a few times so far. They lead into ridiculously tight and fast verses and ensure that “Splinter” is one of the heaviest tracks off the whole album. The drums are the MVP of this track, and it is impossible to ignore how integral they are here. Setting the pace and taking control of the entire song, it is the added intensity of drums that gives “Splinter” the added edge it needed.
And thus we have hit the closing/title track, “Hyperdaze”, which ends the album with an added sense of dread. While all the way through it is just another fun heavy song that fits with the tone of the album, the way it ends, with intense nightmarish samples and effects, adds the haunting tone that it felt like the ending of this album deserved.
Blink-182 – Nine
It’s been an odd few years for Blink-182. The band, now crystallized with the addition of Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba, seems to have fallen into the steadfast routine of existing to remain relevant by doing everything by the book. Nine, the band’s eighth studio album, and now the second without Tom DeLonge, is a natural progression from 2016’s California, but it’s so determined to remain current while checking off every single pop music trope of today that it does everything except have a personality. It’s 15 songs of music that fit anywhere in-between pop songs by Ariana Grande or Post-Malone. The album is just as easy to digest next to Lil Wayne as it is next to Maroon 5, and like all these aforementioned artists, Blink are now so safe, so saccharine, so inoffensive that it becomes such a chore to sit through this latest iteration of their music.
The problem with Nine is that so many of the songs are lacking any sense of urgency and commit the ultimate crime of just being songs that fill a tracklist. From the singles “Blame It On My Youth”, “Happy Days”, and the confounding “I Really Wish I Hated You”- they all come packing the same bouncy, pop-laden hooks, Travis Barker’s skitterish drum work, and singy-songy choruses that have dominated the charts the last decade and are bereft of a willingness or desire to grab the listener by the ears and demand attention. Songs like “Hungover You” sound like half-songs with its whispered, scatter-gun verses that explode into mid-tempo choruses. “Remember To Forget Me” is “Stay Together For The Kids” lite, except that it doesn’t have the impact of the latter’s substance while “Generational Divide” gives off “my first punk song” vibes. Skiba sounds bored half the time, which is a shame really. Even when the album does its best Alkaline Trio impersonation (“Black Rain”) it sounds like a song Skiba left off the last Trio record.
Nine finally hits a spot of excitement in “Ransom” with its uptempo percussion work and (finally) the urge to push the limits. But dumbfoundingly, the song is only a minute and a half long, and while I’m all for brevity, the song ends just as it is about to pick up some momentum. Bizarre.
So who is Nine for exactly? Well, it’s definitely not for old-school Blink fans who first discovered the band with Buddha, Cheshire Cat, or Dude Ranch. But I’m probably just a crotchety old-school listener who has been puzzled ever since 2003’s self-titled album. Nine is really for the average listener who “likes all kinds of music” and loves that so much of popular music today is inoffensive, safe, diverse, and caters to listeners of all genres and backgrounds. For you, the album is fine and will sit happily in your Spotify playlist next to whatever tepid song is currently topping the charts. But for anyone who longs for Blink with a little bit of personality and juvenile attitude, you’ll find none of that here. It doesn’t even have anything to do with the album’s lack of DeLonge either because by the time he did Neighborhoods, his head was already in the stars chasing aliens.
Perhaps it is too much to ask for another song about jerking off in a tree, but this band used to be fun. Now they’re just pedestrian at best. Imagine an average Alkaline Trio hooking up with +44 on the dance floor of some terrible night club and you’ve got Nine. It’s a shame really. Growing up doesn’t always have to suck, but it really shouldn’t be this bland either.