Album Review: Frank Turner & NOFX – West Coat vs Wessex

The two punks cover each other’s songs on one of the best splits you’ll get this year.

Cover LPs aren’t a new invention, but how great is a split LP of artists that both adore each other covering each other’s songs?! Due for release via Fat Mike’s own Fat Wreck Chords label this Friday, the project brings together for the first time ever the long-running Los Angeles punks and the London-based singer and ex-Million Dead frontman, for many years now both friends and fans of each other’s music. West Coast vs Wessex captures NOFX tackling five selections from Turner’s sizeable solo back catalogue, with Frank reciprocating with recordings of five of his personal favourites picked from NOFX’s 37-years-and-counting career.

Just how often does the leader of one of your favourite bands ask you to do a split album? One where his band covers your songs? It’s the situation Frank Turner found himself in last year, when Fat Mike of NOFX asked if he wanted to do a split covers album. “And I shit the bed and said, ‘Fucking of course I do! That sounds incredible,” Turner recalls.

And incredible it is indeed. Giving each song their own spin, both artists picked songs from the other’s back catalogue that they thought would be most interesting to rearrange. “What I did is change a lot of chords. Frank, he beats me in the singing department. So I can’t sing better than he can, but I can maybe throw in a melody here or there or chord that he hadn’t thought of.” Fat Mike says.

Turner took a similar approach. “I didn’t want to just do straight covers of anything. I wanted to try and pick songs where I felt like me and my band could bring something different to the table,” he says. “But it did strike me that it would be cool to demonstrate to the casual NOFX fan, who doesn’t know who I am, that I am actually a fan. I didn’t just go to Spotify and pick the five most-listened-to songs.”

Frank Turner kicks things off with a cover of NOFX’s Scavenger Type, which Turner punked-up by various degrees from its campfire bop-along original. And the following rendition of NOFX’s 1992 track Bob benefits hugely from Turner’s folky twists and slowed down melodies. The ska-vibes in Eat The Meek are swapped to modern indie-rock choruses that are incredibly catchy and could pass for a top-5 single of a new up-and-coming indie band. What a track!

And whether its the politically charged Perfect Government released in 1994, or Turner’s anti-Tory track Thatcher Fucked The Kids, neitehr of the two artists lose their sense of punk or reduce the tracks impacts. On the contrary, the brand new spin reiterated how relevant the messages still are today.

“Everything he picked was from the ’90s, so I took that as it’s okay to mostly do his early stuff too,” says Fat Mike, who channeled ‘90s NOFX for their interpretations. “People who hear it, they all say it sounds like old NOFX.” It does sound like ’90s NOFX, and that’s a good thing. The heart-wrenching Substitute gets a light lift and feels less heavy (and emo, let’s be honest). The grungy guitars in the chorus are a take on the song Frank Turner should consider taking up for live shows, it would make for a great moshpit and just as great a singalong.

Similarly, Ballad Of Me And My Friends sounds epic sped up and with a whole lot of guitars and drums added. The best part, is the bridge that you know Turner’s fans love to shout the loudest is slowed down by NOFX, fully appreciating its sentiment. The album finishes off on a glorious cover (pun intended) of Glory Hallelujah. One of the most interesting covers in the split, it’s almost got a Broadway musical feel to it thanks to the ska influences and reduced guitars until the very end, keeping its anthemic character.

“It’s difficult to describe quite how it feels to hear back a song that you wrote played by NOFX, one of your favourite bands, in a style that is unmistakably theirs,” Turner says. “It tends to make me just laugh in a really elated kind of way. It’s just like, ‘Holy shit, this is ‘Substitute’ done by NOFX! This is fucking insane!’” Fat Mike was similarly psyched. “When Frank picked ‘Falling in Love,’ I was so fucking stoked,” Mike says. “Then I heard it, and I go, ‘Holy shit, he just kicked our ass.’ I was pleased with all of them. I thought he did a really good job – and not such a good job that we couldn’t beat him on a few songs.”

“I have always thought and always maintained, well before we were friends, that Mike is a great, classic songwriter,” Turner says. “And that’s what sets NOFX apart from many of their peers. Just for me to be able to stand up in front of the mirror and look at myself and say, ‘You’re doing a fucking split with NOFX’—that is an absolute dream come true for me,” he says, laughing. “I mean, I don’t quite know where my career goes from here.”

The mutual appreciation is audible in the covers on West Coast vs Wessex, and will give fans of each artists a new appreciation for their favourites. And for everyone else, it’s a really great punk record to listen to in 2020.

Punk in Drublic Festival 2021 European Tour Dates Feat. NOFX and Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls
13 May FRANCE Chemillé, Théâtre Foirail à Chemille
15 May BELGIUM Boom, De Schorre Open Air
16 May GERMANY Berlin, Zitadelle
21 May AUSTRIA Wiesen, Wiesen Open Air
23 May ITALY Milan, Carroponte
4 June GERMANY Oberhausen, Turbinenhalle
5 June GERMANY Hannover, Faust Open Air
10 June FINLAND Turku, Vanha Surrtori 5
12 June NORWAY Oslo, Oslo Spektrum
13 June SWEDEN Malmö, Folkets Park