A song/EP released by NOFX in late 1999. The song lasts almost 19 minutes. I think it is brilliant, and agree with Metal Hammer that it is "a work of near genius". As well as being new and interesting, NOFX style punk rock undertones remain, notably the drumming. It is about the social and political decline of the USA.

NOFX: The Decline (1999)

A brief rush of sound, then manic cymbals, followed by doubled bass notes. Then it speeds up....

Where are all the stupid people from
and how did they get to be so dumb
Bred on purple mountain range
Feed amber waves of grains
To lesser human beings, zero feelings

NOFX has never really been a "message" band or overly political, unlike Fat Wreck Chords comrades Good Riddance or Propagandhi, choosing to lean toward a more comic and ironic lyrical stance. On the other hand there has been a long tradition of songs that are both—almost "hidden" or tentative, making them almost subversive in the context of their usual content.

Going back to 1991's Ribbed, where the band established their sound and lyrics to some extent, one finds work that contradicts what has been called "clown punk." Between songs like "The Moron Brothers," "Showerdays," and "Together in the Sand," one finds things like "Cheese," "Where's My Slice" (really two songs combined) which deals with greed, the "me generation," and the idea that "I" am somehow entitled to better things that some other guy. Or even "Nowhere," that criticizes the Cold War mentality and foreign policy. Really.

It becomes even stronger in 1994's Punk in Drublic, addressing racism and stereotyping ("Don't Call Me White"), an indifferent and uncaring government ("Perfect Government," not written by NOFX), and the death of a homeless person, a victim of the system ("Scavenger Type"). Sometimes not very "deep," the commentary is still there, even if it's in the guise of humor.

Blame it on human nature, man's destiny (man's destiny)
Blame it on the greediocracy (greediocracy)
The fear of God, the fear of change, fear of truth

Add the Bill of Rights
Subtract the wrongs, (there's no answers)
Memorize and sing
Star spangled songs, (when the questions)
Aren't ever asked

Is anybody learning from the past
We're living in united stagnation

Even in humorous and (apparently) less "serious" songs, one can find an almost subtle (or not so subtle) intellect. (Continuing with Punk...) "Punk Guy" can be seen as an ironic comment on what people "think" punk is. "Lori Meyers" defends a women's right to choose to work in porn ("you think I sell my body; I merely sell my time"). Going back to 1992's The Longest Line EP, "Kill All the White Man" can be read as a darkly comic blast at colonialism. (Or not.) That's the point—there are undercurrents and subtext that suggest the lineage of The Decline.

Then there's the completely unsubtle like "Murder the Government" from So long and Thanks for All the Shoes (1997; the song appeared in a slightly different version on the 1996 Fuck the Kids 7").

Father what have I done.
I took that 22. A gift to me from you
to bed with me each night.
Kept it clean polished it well.
Cherished every cartridge every shell

Down by the creek under brush under dirt
There's a carcass of my second kill
Down at the park under stone under pine
There's a carcass of my brother William

Brother where have you gone to I swear
I never thought I could I see so many times
They told me to shoot straight, don't pull
The trigger squeeze, that will insure
A kill, a kill is what you want
To kill is why we breed

Perhaps the most direct line of descent is "Reeko" from Punk.... It uses the extended metaphor of the aftermath of a wild party to represent the state of the country and how it got that way. The second part of the song becomes more explicit (without ever being specific beyond "The things we never tried to disallow/ Have come back to haunt us now").

The situation is viewed with pessimism and in almost apocalyptic terms (as far as NOFX would take that). From "it's about time we/ Stopped, 'cause I/ See the keg has been sucked dry" and "we've had our fun/ Now there's nothing left to damage/ We got no place left to go" to "Leave this sinking ship, leave and not look back" and "We've come to see the end, we all made this bed/ Now we have nowhere to lay." This situation arises not only by what "we" did, but through what we didn't do. It is this sense of doom (some self-inflicted, some as a result of the government and institutions) that Fat Mike (Mike Burkett; singer, bassist, primary songwriter) returns to in The Decline.

The Christians love their guns
The church and NRA
Pray for their salvations
Prey on lower faiths
The story book's been read
And every line believed
The curriculum's been set
Logic is a threat
Reason searched + seized

The Decline is both "album" and song. The eighteen minute punk epic is the only track. Musically, it's not much of a surprise, mainly an addition to what they did on the Punk... album and the brasher songs on So Long.... As usual, the musicianship is exemplary and the band is tight. Arrangements are excellent and they manage to integrate both trombone (don't worry—no ska) and synthesized rhythm without detracting from the punch of the rest. The production is big and loud. And even though the song can be broken into smaller sections ("songlets"?), it holds together both musically and thematically like a symphonic piece.

Jerry spent some time in Michigan
(a 20 year vacation after all he had a dime)
A dime is worth a lot more in Detroit
(a dime in California a 20 dollar fine)

Jerry only stayed a couple months
(it's hard to enjoy yourself while bleeding out the ass)
Asphyxiation is simple and fast
(it beats 17 fun years of being someone's bitch)

Don't think (stay)
Drink your wine (home)
Watch the fire burn (be)
His problems not mine (safe)
Just be that model citizen

Lyrically, it's intense. It is both commentary and statement—Fat Mike's assessment of 'how things are' (or more glibly, his "state of the union"). While humor is absent (except a thematically appropriate "we are soilent green" [sic] line from the end), some wordplay—something found throughout NOFX lyrics—does make a few appearances: "greediocracy," Serotonin being personified into "Sara" in subsequent lines. But these are almost noticeable for the lack of other examples, so ubiquitous in their other work. This is serious, even mature, and the lyrics are in service to the theme.

I wish I had a schilling for every senseless killing
I'd buy a government. America's for sale and
You can get a good deal on it and make a healthy profit
Or maybe tear it apart start with assumption
That a million people are smart, smarter than 1

He rails about conformity and the reluctance to act on principle—all of which are "bred" into the culture through the government, media, and institutions. He addresses violence and America's "gun culture." The love of guns (often equated with patriotism) starts with the child, taking the gun to bed, "[cherishing] every cartridge, every shell." Taken to the logical extreme, it leads to his descriptions of the sites of the kills, including the his brother (while parts are in first person, they are personae, not Mike, himself).

Serotonin's gone she gave up drifted away
Sara fled though process gone
She left her answering machine on
The greeting left spoken sincere
Messages no one will ever hear

10,000 messages a day a million more transmissions lay
Victims of the laissez faire
10,000 voices, 100 guns, 100 decibels turns to one
One bullet, one empty head

Now with serotonin gone...

Directly following the "gun" section, and directly linked by the lyricist, is another attack on an institution: religion. The criticism falls along expected lines and suffers as a result—we've heard this all before: "the story book's been read," "logic is a threat." He does add that while they (read: Christians; the US is diverse, but not that diverse) pray for salvation, they "prey on the lower faiths." This keeps with the thematic elements of conformity and assumed superiority of certain segments of society. As well as the alienation and marginalization (if not oppression/repression, depending on how much one grants to be hyperbole) of groups not part of the power structure and elite. The tyranny of the majority. Or as he puts it, predation.

The man that used to speak
Performs a cute routine.
Feel a little patronized.
Don't feel bad. They found a way inside your head
And you feel a bit misled.
It's not that they don't care, yeah.
The television's put a thought inside your
Head like a Barry Manilow
Jingle I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony a symphonic blank stare, yeah.
It doesn't make you care. (make you care)
Not designed to make you care. (make you care)
They're betting you wont care. (you won't)

The inequality of drug sentencing is addressed—not just punishment for the offense, but how it is enforced differently across the country (Michigan v. California, in this case—how accurate the numbers are, I am unsure). He then brings up prison violence/rape, which leads to the suicide of "Jerry," the protagonist/victim of the section.

They'll place a wager on your greed.
A wager on your pride
Why try to beat them when a million others tried

(We are the whore)
Intellectually spayed
(We are the queer)
Dysfunctionally raised

The government and the "official" and cultural indoctrination that necessarily comes with it is the main source of the decline. In almost Orwellian terms: "don't think," "just be a model citizen." "America's for sale" but that's not the whole problem—it's also trademarked and copywritten and maintains its power by defining terms as it sees fit and enforcing its beliefs by "manufacturing consent" (necessary to maintain order and power—self-perpetuation).

Not only the government, but the inaction and apathy of the people who are complicit in their indoctrination, control, and coercion (active or passive) of belief. They choose (whether deliberately or through inaction) to maintain the status quo and the "assumption that a million people are smarter than 1." Politicians "[perform] a cute routine" while passing out messages of comfort and conformity like ads and commercial jingles that get "inside your head," placating the people and spreading complacency. They aren't "designed to make you care"—in fact, they're betting that you won't.

One more pill to kill the pain,
One more pill to kill the pain
One more pill to kill the pain,
Living through conformity

One more prayer should keep me safe.
One more prayer to keep us safe
One more prayer to keep us safe
There's gonna be a better place

Lost the battle lost the war
Lost the things worth living for
Lost the will to win the fight
One more pill to kill the pain

Na na na na na
La na na na na
Na na na na na
Na na na na na

One way to break out of that is solidarity. Destroy the "divide and conquer" system used to isolate and diffuse dissent by uniting: "we are the whore," "we are the queer." But he's pessimistic about the prognosis, seeing people taking "one more pill to kill the pain" and saying "one more prayer to keep us safe." It's a losing battle. And even with unification of the dissenters, it doesn't change their status as "them."

The danger that unity can breed conformity and play into the cogs of the system is suggested by "worker" and "queen" references at the end. The music takes a marching sense that evokes images from Pink Floyd The Wall (1982) and there is cheering heard at the mention of the queen. The cover art suggests it as well, like a Soviet May Day parade.

The going gets tough the tough get debt
Don't pay attention pay the rent
Our next of kins pay for your sins
A little faith should keep us safe

Save us

The human existence
is failing Resistance
essential. The future
written off. The odds are
astronomically against us only moron and genius
would fight a losing battle against the super ego
when giving in is so damn comforting

It's difficult to resist (though "essential") when more immediate problems (which are allowed if not planned for) plague us. Debt, rent—trying to put food on the table can kill off or deeply sublimate feelings of dissent. And resentment (which it breeds) is useful to keep people in check.

And so we go on with our lives
We know the truth but prefer lies
Lies are simple. Simple is bliss.
Why go against tradition when we can
Admit defeat. Live in decline.
Be the victim of our own design
The status quo built on suspect.
Why would anyone stick out their neck
Fellow members, Club We've Got Ours.
I'd like to introduce you to our host
He's got his and I've got mine

Meet the Decline

In the end, it's easier to submit or go along, following the path of least resistance, than to act and make change happen. This might be more than merely a description of the problem, it might be a wake up call for people to slow the decline before it becomes as inevitable and final as Mike describes it. Though he's said words to that effect, he and the band are notorious for lying and making stuff up for interviews and in statements. Perhaps more deflection from "serious" stuff in favor of the humor.

The Decline is NOFX at the height of its powers musically and lyrically. Subsequent releases have yet to come close. A rather mature statement for a punk band. And it rocks.

We are the queer
We are the whore
In the class war

We are worker
We love our queen
We sacrifice
We're soilent green

We are the queer
We are the whore
In the class war

(fade out like a song playing through an old portable radio)

Notes: No need to inform me that the sections of the song don't seem to match with the parts of the text they break up—I know that and it's supposed to be that way.

I tinkered with the format of the lyrics. The way they are in the CD jacket make it difficult to tell if the breaks are intentional or part of the overall design of the layout. Italics are mine.

Part of the commentary is my own, some is my interpretation of what I think his point is.

(Sources: pretty much everything the band has out on CD and about two weeks of listening to the thing in the car—I hope this exorcises that demon)

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