Opening song “Situations,” which was originally released through AbsolutePunk.net in 2007, was recorded around the same time as Coming Home, NFG’s awful, final Geffen disc. Despite the connection, though, the tune is better than anything the band released in 2006. A catchy summertime jam, it has that classic NFG sound, and yes, I know I’m getting old and possibly even senile when I can call anything NFG does “classic.”
2000: I’m a freshman in high school. I’m awkward and love Magic: the Gathering a lot. My favorite bands are Tool, Our Lady Peace and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. I’ve never been kissed and never been in love, but I think I’d like both. One day, I hear a 15-second snippet of “Hit or Miss (Waited Too Long)” and decide that I definitely would like both. At three and a half minutes long, “Hit or Miss” is the perfect mall-punk distillation of teenage heartache told through the ballet of the hardcore breakdown.
I hit up Amazon.com and, seeing that “Hit or Miss” is on two records, opt for the cheaper Nothing Gold Can Stay, an underrated lo-fi pop punk masterpiece. My cousin Mike will burn me the group’s self-titled record a few months later, one of six albums I will ever pirate in my life. I’ll buy it for real later, but for now I’m content to jump between the adolescent emotions and rambunctious energy of the two discs.
Later that year, the band will release a great second single, “Dressed to Kill.” Its video has Rachel Lee Cook in it, which is awesome.
2002: My sophomore year of high school has just ended, and I’m stoked on “My Friends Over You,” the lead single from NFG’s third album, Sticks and Stones. Maybe I’m getting older, but I have to admit that the lyrics are starting to sound dumb. I don’t have enough money to buy Sticks and Stones when it comes out, but my brother picks it up. I listen to his copy once and, heartbroken, never put it on again.
Formulaic and emotionally defunct, Sticks and Stones is the most disappointing album I will ever hear in my life. Follow-up single and power ballad “Head On Collision” further confirms that NFG will forever have live sets watered down with songs I don’t like or know the words to. Either way, I’ve been reading about this guy named Blake Schwarzenbach and his bands Jawbreaker and Jets to Brazil, and he sounds neat.
2004: I’m graduating high school and freaking out. I vow to spend as much time listening to punk music on New Jersey beaches as possible, something I will spend about half of my summer doing. NFG has an incredible new single out called “All Downhill From Here.” I’ve moved on to Bright Eyes for my sadness, Ben Kweller for my rocking and Against Me! for my anger, but something about the tune makes me nostalgic for my former favorite band.
My friend Konrad and I pop the band’s new record, Catalyst, into my car stereo while sitting in a Regal movie theater parking lot and are pleasantly blown the heck away. The disc is all over the place. “I Don’t Wanna Know” is a cheesy ballad complete with strings and belted vocals, but it’s kind of sweet too. “Failure’s Not Flattering (What’s Your Problem)” features prominent keyboard work from James Dewees of Get Up Kids/Reggie and The Full Effect, and it’s got some pep. After the homogeny of Sticks and Stones, I’m so energized by the relative musical diversification of Catalyst that I ignore the fact that I don’t relate to the lyrics at all.
2006: Junior year of college. My roommate Nick Elmer is streaming NFG’s latest album Coming Home online and he keeps alternating between laughing and cursing. Future singles “It’s Not Your Fault” and “Hold My Hand” are overproduced and lame. I originally think that the chorus to “It’s Not Your Fault” is “It’s not your fault/So please stop complaining now,” which seems harsh but also funny. Later, I’ll find out I’m wrong.2008 (the not-so-distant future): NFG’s Hits concludes with “Constant Static,” a bonus track from the U.K. version of Catalyst, and it’s ho-hum. As a guy with a love/hate relationship with NFG, I find Hits to be an unnecessary cash grab. The album’s liner notes and “exclusive photos” feel hastily assembled; the notes actually have several grammatical errors. That said, it’s nice to get the singles from the group’s albums I skipped over—“Understatement” from Sticks and Stones is particularly great—and “Situations” is pretty good, even though I could have saved money by purchasing these songs on iTunes. Not only that, I’m probably better off putting on Nothing Gold Can Stay instead.