NOFX/Rancid - BYO Split Series Vol. 3
While writing my review for the new Between the Buried and Me covers album, I mentioned for a cover to be good it has to either be of a good song in the first place, or, the idiosyncrasies of the covering band must complement the song they're covering in such a way as to render it better than, or at least different in a positive way to the original. However, after critically listening to NOFX and Rancid's split cover album, I think that for a cover to be great
, another condition applies; the covering band must have a certain intimacy with the song, such that both the songs can be listened to back to back, and be enjoyed for their similarities, and cherished for their contrasts. There has to be a special connection between both bands to enable one to cover the other's song and make it truly amazing that is difficult to describe. Though, as way of example, every single song on this BYO split CD provides an exhibition of that delicate touch required to write a great cover song.
The general formula for this album is that Rancid and NOFX cover 6 of each others most popular or fun songs. NOFX had a scattered selection of songs, choosing from albums that span Rancid's whole career. Rancid doesn't hit any recent material, each song pre-dating Heavy Petting Zoo
but reaches fairly far back, all the way to S&M Airlines
for "Vanilla Sex" and Ribbed
for "Moron Bros," which is usually as far as non-die hard NOFX fans are willing to go anyway. The two bands have very overlapping styles, especially in these two periods. NOFX and Rancid both mix punk, pop punk, ska, hardcore, and rock, though the obvious overlying end result is punk, or pop punk, I guess. However, both bands seem to have carved out their own special recipe for mixing those genres. Rancid goes more the way of The Clash by having a more classic feel in both their punk and ska, while NOFX has more of a distance from older style punk as they were bellwethers for the melodic punk Fat Wreck style they almost single-handedly established in the early 90s. Because of common influences but different end results, the recipes are flipped, which means hearing the tight, catchy NOFX songs performed by a sloppier more "punk" group, and the Rancid songs being rendered less rough hewn yet more refined by NOFX's sheen. It's this reinterpretation of each other's styles and songs that fosters the intimacy I mentioned earlier. Not at any point does either band compromise or undermine themselves or each other, which seems am impossible task when covering songs, but somehow they pull it off.
The NOFX side is particularly enjoyable for me. I'm less familiar with Rancid's collection, owning only two LPs and scattered mp3s, but I've noticed that their top few songs are true gems of punk songwriting. "Corazon de Oro," "Radio, Radio," and "Olympia, WA" are some of Rancid's three best songs, and they're the most wistful and ballad-like as well. NOFX plays all three of them beautifully, leaving no heartstring unpulled. Even the campy reggae version of "Radio, Radio" doesn't lose its wonderful punk qualities as Fat Mike harmonizes with his whined background vocals. Some of Rancid's best fast songs like "Maxwell Murder" and "It's Quite Alright" don't make it on this album, which was disappointing, however, the ones selected "I'm the One," "Tenderloin," and "Antennaes" are also pretty great. NOFX's tighter formula takes the edge off of the faster tracks (whereas they complement the longer, slower ones), but overall they are played well, if, a little watered down.
The Rancid side is a little offbeat. Like I mentioned earlier, it plays more like a greatest hits from 1987-1994 collection because of the choices, but those ones still sum up a lot of NOFX's musical diversities and achievements. While I've never liked "The Brews" as much as other NOFX fans, I was pleased with all of the other choices. More obscure favorites like "Lori Meyers" and "She's Gone" didn't make it of course, but the ones left here are great. Rancid benefits from having Matt Freedman, who is a sick bassist so where there are typically guitar solos and leads, Freedman fills in like on the awesome rearranging of the instrumentation on the intro to "Stickin' in My Eye." Also, the sloppier punk feel helps out a lot songs like "Bob" where Armstrong's weird, faux-British accent slurs words like "about" in unusual yet fun and memorable ways. Rancid's 3 three vocalist technique also divides the songs well with the worst vocalist (Freedman) taking over only one track, "Don't Call Me White," whose angry, witty lyrics benefit from his rough, barking shouts. Lars Friedrikson, ironically takes over the Jewish anthem "The Brews" and "Stickin' in My Eye" while the unofficial frontman/lead vocalist Tim Armstrong takes the remaining three.
These songs represent so much that was and still is important with good punk songwriting. A slight technicality in the speed of the drumming and little riffs thrown in, amazing youthful, witty lyrics, and incredibly catchy chord progressions and octave melodies. They are inherently good but are also taken to the next level. This album is most enjoyable based off of how the songs are different from the originals rather than how similar. The soft, wind down at the end of "Bob" makes the song feel as wistful as "Olympia, WA" and the gang vocals mixed way the hell up on "The Brews" give that song the proper gang feel that suits the lyrics and even the chord progression. NOFX too reinvents Rancid by really laying on the fake Jamaican accent thickly on "Radio, Radio" and what I consider the best moment of the album, Eric Melvin's octave guitar melodies on the chorus of "Olympia, WA." Inserting these subtle changes and inflections requires choice. I feel that because NOFX and Rancid have a special bond, in what they represent for punk, and also in their actual musical style, they share that special link that allows them to make the right choices, which makes their songs even more special and poignant to a nostalgic listener like myself. So, if you have enjoyed either of these two bands in the past, or even if you're just encountering them for the first time, I recommend this as a must have album, just because of how god dam
n right it feels. It takes me back to being 15, which, while not that long ago, was a distinctive, Fat Wreck-laden period of my life that enjoy reliving through this album. Though this album is extra special to me, I still think there's a lot on this album to appreciate and admire for even lukewarm fans.
Recommended Tracks: Olympia, WA; Stickin' My Eye; Corazon de Oro; Don't Call Me White