Everything that can be said about NOFX has been said at least twice, says front man/bassist Fat Mike. That may be because their sound hasn't changed much over the past two decades, and while their lack of aural evolution isn't necessarily a bad thing, it leaves outsiders wondering just what the hell it is that keeps pushing them to make more music. The answer, apparently, is fun: NOFX were making lighthearted, lowbrow speed-punk before Blink-182 were growing hair on their pubes. And Pump up the Valuum is merely further proof that they're the yardstick by which every young punk band ought to be measured. But with Valuum's by-now-predictable guitar hum and obligatory machine-gun drums, the only thing really deserving of attention are the lyrics. This time out, themes range from parents who enjoy punk rock (the cheekily titled "What's the Matter With Parents Today?") to a sex-change operation ode ("My Vagina"), which at least keep you laughing at their observational talents. But in terms of pure storytelling, the best track is "Theme From a NOFX Album," a polka-driven, Weird Al-inspired ditty in which the band members attempt to chronicle their own lives. How much longer can these guys regurgitate the same sounds before they finally, ultimately fade away? Who cares? Live for the now, and enjoy the twisted brilliance of NOFX while they still exist. SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE

Sunny Day Real Estate's second album since re-forming finds Jeremy Enigk hogging the still-vacant bassist slot, along with his usual guitar, vocal and (occasional) piano duties. He's a busy man, all right, but it seems that in the process of sharpening his skills on the bottom end, he has forgotten how to write lyrics—though now he's singing in a higher octave, so he doesn't sound so much like Perry Farrell. On The Rising Tide, Enigk's words have all the charm and depth of an eighth-grader's writing journal. "Television" gives us the puzzling description "She's cool and she's free like television," while his well-intended, worldly words waffle with lines like "Tearing in my heart when the world falls apart" and "Everything and everyone/And in the end we all are one/The truth will not be denied." The mingled guitar leads that darkened and deepened their last album, How It Feels to Be Something On, are buried here in favor of their pre-split forcefulness. As a result—and because of the cornball-altruistic lyrics—Tide is a step back toward a sunnier disposition for Sunny Day Real Estate, which was prettier as a gloomy band. Only the opener, "Killed by an Angel," punches as hard and precisely as this band once did. Much of the rest is burly but non-threatening anthems that could've been big hits back when alterna-rock was king but now will likely live on as abstract manifestoes for disenfranchised indie kids, who'll love this album as much for the band's even-more-independent new label (they switched from Sub Pop to Laguna Beach-based Time Bomb) as they will for the music that's on it. (Michael Coyle)


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