Review Summary: With the addition of El Hefe and a fine-tuned sound, NOFX records an aggressive, accessible, and talented EP.
After their release of Ribbed
in 1990, punk quartet NOFX began to gather a following that actually enjoyed their music. Their earlier works were inspired but lacked cohesiveness, whereas Ribbed
formed their unique sound, resulting in a blend of influences like Bad Religion, D.I., and Rich Kids on LSD (RKL). Shortly thereafter lead guitarist Steve Kidwiller decided to leave the band for personal reasons, prompting the hire of guitarist and trumpeter Aaron Abeyta, better known as El Hefe, who has performed on seven full-length albums to date. His first contribution was on The Longest Line
, a thirteen-minute, five-song EP in 1992. This also marked the first release on Fat Wreck Chords, the San Francisco based record label owned by strapping NOFX frontman and bassist Fat Mike (Mike Burkett). NOFX went all-out in designing the album cover, though they spared the use of colors in favor of illustrating famous figures including the Silver Surfer, Fidel Castro, an encased mummy, a luchador, Venus de Milo, Satin, a clown, and Elvis. This illustrious collection of icons may represent the widespread desire to listen to The Longest Line
, because it’s the best EP NOFX ever recorded.
Not only is The Longest Line
the best EP NOFX ever made, it’s rawer and more aggressive than many of their other EPs. It’s the most accessible, and would be the most talented if it were not for what many consider their magnum opus, The Decline
. The raw and aggressive nature of the album is almost immediately noticeable. When the album begins with the claps of a large audience, Fat Mike introduces his band saying “Hi, we’re NOFX,” and the applause is abruptly halted in favor of the crickets who came to party. But before the crickets could settle into their small, submarine-shaped seats, Fat Mike lets loose a stunted bass line that cycles for a few seconds before Smelly (Erik Sandin), Erik Melvin, and Hefe join his power parade with drum artillery and streamlined guitar work. The song features well-calculated breakdowns, guitar rhythms, and intelligent, moving lyrics. With the subject of a man’s futility, a downward spiral recognized during rotation, NOFX conveys a hopelessness clearly and cleverly.
So I'll keep on working for the benefits
And I'll keep on drinking
I'll keep believing in my life…
…I'll keep on believing my life still has value
And I'll keep on laughing
Why can't I stop laughing? I can't stop the laughing.
Fat Mike claims that “The Death of John Smith” is one of their more difficult songs to play live. His words resonate during the studio version, a song that demonstrates the song’s complexity and the band’s dexterity.
The influences on the album are heavy and instantly recognizable. Bad Religion plays the largest role considering the frequency NOFX uses vocal harmonies and short guitar solos between vocal pieces to construct songs. “Stranded” and “Remnants” are both fast paced back-to-back tracks that exhibit the experience of NOFX as mastered students of punk rock. Their lyrics shed emotional distress concerning love during “Stranded,” yet the music maintains a parity with their influences, including a clear hostility. The tone in Fat Mike’s voice is not concerned, but steadfast, an obvious indication of confidence to add to an appealing youthful brashness prominent on early NOFX recordings. “Remnants” keeps the same dramatic tone and swift, cutting guitar riffs; it’s another impressive, high-velocity effort of polished skate punk.
Although there are heavy influences, the most recognizable sound on The Longest Line
is what would be later considered “signature NOFX.” Beyond Fat Mike’s vocal groan and Hefe’s high-pitched support, the music tells a greater story. The addition of El Hefe meant the support of a developed musical talent (they call him the boss for a reason) and the inclusion of a trumpet to their ensemble. The title track brings a lounge atmosphere, cheery and catchy, to a depressed tune. This is an addicting characteristic touched on during their previous album with several songs, but not to full potential. It’s not quite ska because it’s punk with a bittersweet twist, an element that NOFX would later perfect and use to develop their image as a gang of witty, light-hearted, and skilled musicians. The humor and affective rhythms are definitely evident on the closer “Kill All the White Man.” Hefe sings the blues and leisurely trumpets along while complaining about imperialism, griping “the white man come to pillage my village, now he tell me I have to bend over.” This song (and album) spawned a new era of NOFX as their music finally bloomed from rushed, sloppy punk into well-timed, jocular material that kept an edge.
Since the release of The Longest Line
, NOFX has issued dozens of albums. They dominate a large section of punk rock and are usually a staple in the average punk’s collection, as well as a band that commonly draws individuals to punk. When Ribbed was recorded, NOFX gave birth to a sound that worked for them and their audience. If you want to understand how their music has evolved and where it commenced refinement, you’re at the right place, but it’s about 13 minutes from this point. No cuts.