Prolific and irreverent, the loveable So-Cal douche bags already had dumped a buttload of garage-birthed LPs and EPs when punk surprisingly became embraced by the mainstream masses. But at a time when Green Day, The Offspring and other notable contemporaries suddenly were ploughing processions of secretaries, chugging name-brand beer and scarfing prime rib as a result of their newfound major label chart-buster status, NOFX chose to keep it “real” and remain “indie.” Uh, yeah. Can we get four Value Deal cheeseburgers, one small Coke and four straws, please?
Although their slew of cerebral slabs, including White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean (1992) and Punk in Drublic (1994) had created a tremendous buzz on the underground scene, NOFX didn’t pop onto my personal radar until a teenage compadre turned me on to the just-released record, Heavy Petting Zoo in early 1996.
Steeped in controversy, the album was available in two different versions — the same songs, but with two different titles and two different covers, both illustrated by Mark deSalvo. As Eating Lamb, the cover depicted a cowboy “69-ing” a lamb. As Heavy Petting Zoo, the cover depicted (presumably) the same cowboy merely fondling the (presumably) same animal. Whether the images were side-splitting or cringe-worthy depended on one’s personal sensibilities. But it was classic NOFX schtick — and savvy marketing, at that. The record would become the band’s first release to hit the Billboard Top 200 — peaking at #63.
A tag-team effort between the band and go-to punk producer, Ryan Greene, the 13-song set slashed through hi-fi speakers straight out the gate. Addressing frontman/bassist Fat Mike’s transparent “concerns” regarding “hobos,” the opening track, “Hobophobic (Scared of Bums)” administered punches to the privates with staple gun-like accuracy — due largely to Erik Sandin’s rib-cracking drum work and the band’s signature-style, snot-soaked vocal harmonies.
An acknowledged standout, “Philthy Phil Philanthropist” was fueled by guitarist Eric Melvin’s monster rock riffage and peppered to perfection by guitarist El Hefe’s drive-by trumpet contribution. Illustrated by Fat Mike’s cynical, yet insightful social commentary, “Freedom Lika Shopping Cart” (as with “Hobophobic”), also dealt with the issue of homelessness.
Given the commercialized castration of punk, NOFX was and remains unlike anyone else. Accented by a groovy wah-wah chug and bathed in a brave melody, “Hot Dog in a Hallway” was a hilarious, honest and pure love song — “like feeding a Tic-Tac to a whale,” now THAT’S some solid poetry right there! Other personal highlights include the chunky and infectious “Liza,” the fast-n-furious metallic-tinged “The Black and White” and the irresistible sing-along “Whatever Didi Wants.”
Distinctive vocals, skin-tight riffs, breakneck drums and abrasive attitude — all longtime key components of the NOFX brand. As a guy who digs word crafting, celebrates risqué humor and craves a tasty hook, I connected particularly with Heavy Petting Zoo in short order. Even after 25 years, it remains a personal weapon of choice. And the fact that I actually chose to travel as a personal assistant for Poison in 2006, when I could have spent the summer following NOFX around on the Vans Warped Tour, is a decision that continues to haunt me to this day. But I digress. Bleh! Bleh-Bleh!
Heavy Petting Zoo Track Listing:
1. Hobophobic (Scared of Bums) – 0:48
2. Philthy Phil Philanthropist – 3:10
3. Freedom Lika Shopping Cart – 3:43
4. Bleeding Heart Disease – 3:36
5. Hot Dog in a Hallway – 2:50
6. Release the Hostages – 2:29
7. Liza – 2:55
8. What’s the Matter with Kids Today? – 1:13
9. Love Story – 2:37
10. The Black and White – 3:36
11. Whatever Didi Wants – 3:00
12. August 8th – 1:35
13. Drop the World – 3:22
Run Time: 34:54
Release Date: January 31, 1996
Record Label: Epitaph Records