Remember split records? In the pre-digital days they were a way for two bands to split cost on production as well as introduce themselves to their respective fans. Splits were often used as an opportunity to cover each other’s songs, give a new spin on an old fan favourite. In many ways, splits were the perfect symbiosis of the novel and the familiar. You got to hear your favourite band and you got to learn about a new one too.
Back in 2002, NOFX put a split out with Rancid under the BYO Split Series. About two years later, in my early forays into the world of punk rock, I downloaded a zip file containing the complete NOFX discography up to that point. The Rancid split was in there and that led me on to …And Out Come The Wolves. Here, in 2020, you can see the same thing happening for some fledgling eleven year old Frank Turner fan. West Coast vs. Wessex is a perfect introduction to the back catalogues of both artists, seen through the prism of their respective sounds. NOFX are the elder statesmen of snotty punk rock; Frank Turner is the punk-turned-acoustic lad who fights for your rights in the roads forged by Billy Bragg.
I grew up writing NOFX on my school diaries but never really got into Million Dead and so when Turner stopped inciting circle pits and started penning folk-punk anthems I never really took notice. On West Coast vs. Wessex, he takes NOFX fan favourite ‘Bob’ and turns it into a strum-along story that does more to bring out the sadness of the aforementioned Bob’s recovery from hedonism. His rendition of ‘Eat the Meek’ manages to sound as though it should be gracing the airwaves, tapping into the anthemic quality that hides beneath the original. NOFX have always been masters of the hook but they bury them beneath mall-rat guitars. Turner manages to see through this. He doesn’t have to worry about alienating the LA skate punks, though to say that Fat Mike and co particularly care about anything anyone says is largely redundant at this point. For myself, as I approach my 19th year of listening to NOFX, it’s strange to hear these songs in such a wildly different context. Songs you listen to at 11 or 12 become embedded within the very fabric of your being and thus, when presented in a new way, they sound almost alien.
What doesn’t sound alien is NOFX’s take on the Turner pieces. Their trademark visceral charges are here, as well as the love of ska and Fat Mike sounds as familiar as ever. On ‘Thatcher Fucked The Kids’, he sneers through the verses and the choruses, backed by the classic NOFX trumpets of El Here. There’s even a terrible impression of Frank Turner, done in true NOFX style. It’s truly their sound diluted into five quick tracks. When artists cover other artists, it almost allows them to hone in on their own sound, freed as they are from the burden of composing. ‘Ballad of Me and My Friends’, a particular highlight, is all octave chords and Dude Ranch drums, a perfect distillation of the skate-punk sound doubled up with the magic lyricism that makes Frank Turner such an attraction to the shout-along crowds that frequent his shows.
Split EPs seem to be dwindling with every passing day as Spotify Recommends takes the job that the split once did, introducing you as the listener to new artists without you having to go out and physically find something new to get your ears into. In NOFX and Frank Turner, you have two bands who have been doing this music thing for a while now and will both remember a time before they had to hope their songs made it onto a curated playlist in order for them to attract new fans. Ultimately, the likelihood of a Frank Turner fan having no idea who NOFX are is small – the band are securely in the ‘Godfather’ territory as far as punk rock music goes. Will the NOFX fan have no concept of Frank Turner? More likely, but still not impossible. He is synonymous with punk-turned-acoustic. Really then, this record is one the two likely agreed to do just for the love of the songs they’d each written. It’s a good way into the back catalogue for the few who’ve never ventured and for those of us that are aware it’s a chance to see the songs through a new lens.
West Coast vs Wessex is out now via Fat Wreck Chords.