ALBUM REVIEW: NOFX & Frank Turner – West Coast Vs Wessex (Fat Wreck Chords)
On the face of it, a split album which sees a veteran LA skate-punk band face off with a British folk-punk singer might sound like a strange concept.
That is until you learn that Fat Mike, the leader of SoCal legends NOFX and Frank Turner, the well-spoken Eton-educated singer-songwriter, are not just friends, but fans of each other’s work.
The germ of the idea was sowed last year, when Fat Mike asked Turner if he’d be interested in releasing a split album. Turner, who fronted post-hardcore band Million Dead before going solo, jumped at the chance, so here we have him and one of the world’s most successful independent punk bands covering five of each other’s songs.
Both have previous with this sort of thing: Turner recorded a split LP with alt-rock artist Jon Snodgrass in 2010, while NOFX did a similar covers album with fellow punk legends Rancid back in 2002.
As it’s released on his label, Fat Mike’s band get to kick things off, and they do so with Substitute, which they give the full NOFX treatment, opening with choppy reggae guitar before exploding into a typical power chord-packed song, replete with Erik Sandin’s distinctive rapid-fire drumming.
Worse Things Happen At Sea is turned into a frenetic punk rock workout, with call and response vocals from Fat Mike and guitarist Eric Melvin. The jaunty ska version of Thatcher Fucked The Kids, complete with horns, is the best track on the album.
Fat Mike’s gravelly drawl sounds odd at first on Ballad Of Me And My Friends, but turns into a triumph, and they get a helping hand from an array of guest vocalists on Glory Hallelujah, and again they more than do justice to a fine song.
Turner chooses five even older cuts from NOFX’s back catalogue, all from the ’90s, and where they ramp his songs up, he tends to tone their down.
The exception is his opener Scavenger Type, from NOFX’s most successful album, Punk In Drublic, which is given a raucous workout by him and his band The Sleeping Souls.
Bob – one of NOFX’s very best songs – was a brave choice, particularly as Rancid covered it so well on the aforementioned split. Sadly, Turner’s reimagined country ballad doesn’t work so well, and hasn’t gone down well with punk purists.
Eat The Meek loses its reggae lilt and is set against skittering drums, and given a typically earnest delivery, and there’s more passion still in Perfect Government.
Turner ends his contribution with a stripped back, downbeat Falling In Love, which is steeped in a huge dose of melancholy.
Curiously, although I’m a bigger Frank Turner than NOFX fan, I preferred their take on his songs to his versions of theirs. On the whole, it’s an interesting experiment in dabbling with something outside your comfort zone, which holds sufficient curiosity value to appeal to fans of both artists. 6/10.