Review Summary: While NOFX may not be one of the most technically talented bands out there, they took the most apparently shallow form of music, Punk Rock, and made a truly epic song.
In all honesty, I realize that NOFX isn't for everyone. I also realize that I have written 2 reviews so far, and they have both been 5 Star reviews. However, I don't play favorites, and I don't plan on only rating the best CDs I own. I just really want to add my opinion on this amazing single. It really is one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of punk music.
Just as a bit of background information, "The Decline" is an 18 minute epic by the punk band NOFX. While a large majority of NOFX's work is under 2 minutes, and is typically about stupid stuff (such as "Shower Days" or "My Vagina") "The Decline" transcends all of the stereotypes held against NOFX, and against Punk music in general, and has becoming a defining song in the punk genre. Not only does this song have a very clear, and well conveyed, message, but it also musically breaks down barriers they set up for themselves, and barriers others put up around them.
The song comes in with some fast Hi Hat work, and a tell-tale Bass note. The bass then gets into a standard Fat Mike riff, followed by an anti-climax, then breaking into full-fledged NOFX style. The first part's lyrics are about America's decline into stupidity, greed, and closed-mindedness. It also goes into details about being Patriotic, without really standing for anything, and loving your country without truly knowing your country. All the while, they take their standard 4-Chord formula, and Smelly's blazing fast single-kick drum beats, and keep the intensity up for a large portion of the beginning of the song.
After a short break, the second section comes in, begins speaking out about gun control, telling the story of a boy who receives a .22 rifle from his father as a gift, but then accidentally kills his brother in a hunting accident. While it may not be easy to decipher the whole story while listening to the song the first time through, and while the tone is certainly not depressing, the story still hits home for me. After this, there is a short break reminiscent of the introduction, and then they go into a slightly slower section, still about gun control, and about how society is practically being brainwashed into thinking the same things, without thinking for themselves.
After this, the song goes into a very slow section, with a nice, lyrical bass solo. However, it doesn't last long, as it abruptly breaks back into the blazing fast Punk NOFX is known for. The next story is about Jerry, a guy who goes to jail for carrying a dimebag, and the ncommits suicide in the prison. Then, it has a satyrical section about the middle class just ignoring this injustice, being safe in their own homes, and "being that model citizen".
The song then goes into another section like the introduction, and then a slow section to parallel the bass solo from earlier. During this slow section, the lyrics talk about the senselesness of war, and how little America is worth. Towards the end of the section, the drums speed up, over the lyrics "Or maybe tear it apart / Star with assumption / That a million people are smart / Smarter than one", followed by a short trombone bridge, and then an odd-metered ensemble section.
The lyrics come in again, sounding distant, over a simple bass line. The new section isn't slow, but feels slow in comparison to the rest of the song, with almost a swing feel to it. This section talks about Serotonin, who disappeared, leaving behind only an answering machine message, and (from what I have been able to decipher) silenced an angry mob with a single bullet. Whether she killed someone else, or killed herself, I am not certain.
Now the band breaks into another fast interlude, with a lot of intricate drum work. The new lyrics come in over a tribal drum beat, about how the media has control over our minds, and how it isn't our fault we've been misled. The whole idea is that we eventually will just stop caring, and stop listening, and they can do whatever they please. This section is followed by a short guitar solo. Then, a fast bass line comes in, followed by some fairly rhythmless noise from the whole band. The only thing in this part that seems to have any sense of time is the bass part, which gets largely lost amongst all of the noise, unless you really listen for it. Another short, fast section starts, in which Eric Melvin and Fat Mike trade the lines "We are the whoire / Intellectually spayed / We are the queer / Dysfunctionally raised".
The same trombone bridge from earlier comes in, followed by the slowest, most laid back section of the song. The lyrics here talk, in my opinion, about using both prescription drugs and religion to help "even people out" a bit. "One more pill to kill the pain / Of living through conformity". Then, very suddenly, Eric Melvin comes in with some great shouts, and the song builds up to a triumphant section, with Eric doing a background scream over "Lost the battle lost the war / Lost the things worth living for / Lost the will to win the fight / One more pill to kill the pain".
After this section, there is a short, semi-clean guitar riff with intermittent drums, and then the song breaks into the true climax, with Eric Melvin and Fat Mike once again trading lyrics like "Only moron and genius / Would fight a losing battle / Against the super ego / When giving in is so damn comforting". Then, another fast punk section leads up to the anti-climactic, yet oddly powerful "conclusion" of the song. The whole song explodes into just a clean electric guitar and Fat Mike's voice, where he says "He's got his, and I've got mine / Meet the Decline".
After this, the songs builds back into the trombone bridge from before, and the "We are the Whore / We are the Queer" lyrics come back. While there is a key change about half way through the outro section, it is largely forgettable in the grand scheme of this song. The song slowly fades to nothing, though if you have the speakers or headphones loud enough, you can hear the band actually stop playing.
NOFX was the first truly Punk band I listened to and liked. They opened my eyes to a lot fo my favorite music, and I will always be grateful for that. I heard this song for the first time on a car ride with my cousin (who introduced me to punk in the first place) and I was hooked. Now, I can honestly say that in the course of any road trip, I will listen to this song at least once. It has never gotten boring to me in the least, and I listened to it practically on loop for over a month. It truly is one of the greatest achievements of the 90s, musically, and certainly defines an era of "Punk / Pop-Punk" with its catchy melodies, politically charged lyrics, and blazing speed. While NOFX may not be one of the most technically talented bands out there, they have done something some other bands (such as Green Day) have tried, unsuccesfully, to emulate. NOFX took the most seemingly arbitrary, and apparently shallow form of music, Punk Rock, and made a truly epic song. Even if you don't think you like punk, you really owe it to yourself to really give this song at least two good listens. You will not be disappointed.