On paper, it's an intriguing concept: Two of punk's best-known bands cover each other's material, with Rancid injecting street-smart credibility into NOFX's snarky melodicore tunes and NOFX adding levity to Rancid's titanic Clash-inspired sound. While reworking NOFX's "Stickin' in My Eye," Rancid's virtuosic bassist Matt Freeman adds a hyperkinetic undercurrent and Lars Frederiksen's expressive vocals introduce a new sense of panic. Cleaning up "Olympia, WA," NOFX's Fat Mike enunciates serial slurrer Tim Armstrong's murmurs and shifts the previously sluggish tune into overdrive during its choruses. As a one-song-each single, these'd be a well-executed idea. Trouble is, this is a twelve-track disc.
For Rancid most of the problems have to do with the vocals. Frederiksen fares fine, but Armstrong's incomprehensible utterings make the clean-and-sober protagonist of the NOFX song "Bob" sound like he's fallen off the wagon. And Freeman sounds like an angry Muppet on "Don't Call Me White" -- one can almost picture a peeved red furball declaring "Animal red, damn it!"
NOFX's Rancid adaptations follow a simple formula: Speed up the beats, simplify the bass lines, snotty up the vocals. A traditionally good-humored band, NOFX also adds some comic relief, sneaking a Fat Albert impression into the fist-pumping hey, hey, heys of "I'm the One" and turning "Radio" into a reggae-flavored joke that's funny only once. NOFX's covers, though technically acceptable, sound flat because Rancid's songs -- Armstrong's in particular -- contain gruff yet earnest emotional displays that can't be adequately duplicated by any vocalist, especially NOFX's sneering Fat Mike.
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There's a reason NOFX succeeds as punk's smarter-than-it-lets-on class clown, and there's a reason why Rancid charms while playing the mohawked loner with the heart of a hopeless romantic. Let's hope this mildly amusing yet ultimately unsuccessful experiment doesn't inspire either outfit to dress up in the other's clothes on future releases.