NOFX/Frank Turner - West Coast Vs. Wessex (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

NOFX / Frank Turner

West Coast Vs. Wessex (2020)

Fat wreck Chords

On West Coast Vs. Wessex, NOFX put a punk twist on five Frank Turner songs, and Turner folks up five older NOFX tracks. The odd pairing comes as a result of the genuine friendship between Fat Mike and Turner, but can friendship bridge such a wide musical chasm? Sometimes. Other times, the songs are so strong that they transcend musical style and carry the day. Still other times, overly convoluted arrangements don’t quite succeed.

Nostalgia really is a powerful drug. I was more excited about this NOFX record than I had been in years. Why? Because I love their 2002 full length split with Rancid so much. Somewhere deep down, I was hoping they could recapture a little bit of that magic.

My longtime NOFX fandom has come in waves. I first heard them in the very early ‘90s, probably Ribbed. I loved, still love actually, S&M Airlines (1989), Ribbed (1991), White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean (1992) and Punk In Drublic (1994). S&M Airlines is my all time favorite. I had a friend recently comment that he thought it was funny that I liked NOFX best before they were good. I feel like I liked them best before they got too good for their own good.

Between the stylistic shift and my own personal tastes changing, I was starting to lose interest by the time Heavy Petting Zoo (1996) rolled around. I still like that record quite a bit, but couldn’t get into the next two at all. I figured it was over between NOFX and I. It’s OK. It happens. We had a great four album run. That in itself is a rarity.

Then came the split with Rancid. Between their spirited interpretations of Rancid songs, and Rancid’s new twist on their old songs, I felt that familiar fire again. NOFX followed that up with two more great full lengths before, for me at least, interest again started to wane. I thought there could be a chance that lightning would strike twice, 18 years apart.

NOFX start things off on West Coast Vs. Wessex with a pair of Turner songs about girls, sort of. “Substitute” is a song about music taking the place of romantic love, and the ska/punk treatment works well. Ditto for “Worse Things Happen at Sea”, a non traditional breakup song for sure. On “Thatcher Fucked the Kids” NOFX start adding more bells and whistles, and things get a little dicier. The piano and extra voices distract more than they serve the song. “Ballad of Me and My Friends” gets things back on track.

“Glory Hallelujah” is the song I struggle with most. The original version is a masterpiece, but I don't care for NOFX’s arrangement at all. It’s got piano, organ, extra voices and other subtle gospel influenced flourishes, but unfortunately, it comes across like the theme song from a bad ‘80s sitcom. Fortunately, it’s somewhat redeemed by a signature burst of NOFX speed at the end.

I’m not as big of a Frank Turner fan as I am of NOFX, but I’ve seen him a few times and enjoy him for the most part. That being said, I love what he did with his side of the record. He starts with a revved up folk punk version of “Scavenger Type”. It’s pretty good, but it’s also exactly what you’d expect. He gets more adventurous from there. “Bob” works surprisingly well as a melancholy country song. More surprising is how well “Eat the Meek” works as an alt-rock dance song, ala New Order or Depeche Mode. It’s a testament to NOFX’s pop sensibility as well as Turner’s ability to think outside the box.

“Perfect Government” delivers what you’d expect from a folk punk artist covering a punk band, but Turner really exploits the song’s already strong melody. Closer, “Falling In Love”, is once again a complete reimagining. It’s a dark Swans-like take, with mostly acoustic guitar and some weird ambient stuff. It makes for a fantastic but depressing finish.

Ultimately, for me at least, the Frank Turner side of the record wins the West Coast Vs. Wessex war. Whether it’s due to Fat Mike’s songwriting, or Turner’s vision is hard to say. I doubt this will ever occupy that special place in our hearts that NOFX/Rancid did, but it’s still a fun listen. It’s not a game changer at this point, but there’s still enough good stuff that fans of both acts are going to want to pick this up.