Versus: Millencolin – For Monkeys vs Pennybridge Pioneers

Formed in 1992 by friends Nikola Sarcevic (bass and vocals), Mathias Färm (guitar), and Erik Ohlsson (guitar), with drummer Fredrik Larzon joining in 1993, Millencolin remain one of Europe’s biggest punk bands after 2 decades at the top.

Having refined their sound from the early ska-influenced ‘Life On A Plate’, they made their major breakthrough with 2000’s ‘Pennybridge Pioneers’ on the back of killer singles ‘Fox’ and ‘No Cigar’.

Since then, each subsequent record has been met with acclaim by expectant fans. Now, they’re back with the killer ‘True Brew’, their first record in seven years, so Already Heard writers Rob Mair and Mark Bussey went head-to-head to argue the case for their favourite Millencolin albums – ‘For Monkeys’ and ‘Pennybridge Pioneers’ respectively.

For Monkeys (by Rob Mair)
Sixth form was competitive – not least of all when it came it getting your favourite music on the common room stereo. I learnt, very quickly, that there was little love for The Flaming Lips and Pavement in a Catholic comprehensive in semi-rural Staffordshire, but in the skateboarding boom of the late 90s, Epi-Fat punk was a real winner. And, with a twin heavily into all things skate-punk and at the same school, it meant The Offspring, Bad Religion, Green Day and Blink 182 were never far from the stereo.

However, few albums got played as much as ‘For Monkeys’ over the course of the two years. Why? Because, having featured on a number of snowboarding videos (and with Cannock’s proximity to the Tamworth Snowdome) it opened them up to a much wider section of the common room. It was a crowd pleasing favourite.And to this day it’s easy to see why.

It opens with ‘Puzzle’, a manifesto for the album. “Third album, less of ska and not so many fast ones; more of poppy, pushy songs, those that we do best now,” sings Nikola Sarcevic and he’s bang on the money. Aside from the abomination of a ska song (‘Monkey Boogie’), ‘For Monkeys’ is the sound of a band nailing down their identity – and it shines through on the likes of ‘Black Gold’ and ‘Boring Planet’, both of which stand up to anything on the more lauded ‘Pennybridge Pioneers’>I.

And then there’s ‘Lozin’ Must’, which to this day remains my favourite Millencolin song. Charging in after ‘Puzzle’, it’s barely 2 minutes long yet hits you like a punch in the face. It’s brash and bold and backed with a bullishness that only comes from youthful exuberance.

And that’s where the charm of ‘For Monkeys’ lies – it’s the sound of a bunch of mates having the time of their lives. At the time of writing, the guys in Millencolin would have been at most 22 or 23 – only 5 years older than we were – yet here they were singing about picking up Juventus shirts from an Italian sportswear store. It is fun and aspirational – I mean who hasn’t dreamed of touring round Europe with their mates? Yet not only did Millencolin achieve it, they wrote some bloody great songs about it.

‘Pennybridge Pioneers’ (by Mark Bussey)
2000, what a year: already well into (what I expect will prove to become) a life-long love affair with punk-rock, living in fear of computers breaking down leading to the fall of modern civilisation (the millennium bug!) and stressing out as I begun to prepare for my GCSEs, it was the perfect setting for infectious pop-punk.

Now feeling ancient as I type this, back in the days when I could fit into 30” waist jeans I had to be selective about my tunes. Downloading music (regardless of legality) wasn’t easy and, with limited funds, I had wasted a bunch of my money on a minidisc player before realising that no-one decent released music on that format. That meant that I was required to revert back to the disc-man (CD player), which skipped whenever the bus went over a pothole and also meant that I could only carry one album per day.

In short, if an album made the cut that morning it needed be good since it was all I had for my 90-minute round-trip commute to school. Amongst the giants (**ahem** Limp Bizkit and Blink 182 pre-Skiba) was ‘Pennybridge Pioneers’ by Millencolin. Truthfully, once this record slotted into my player on any given Monday morning it would remain there for weeks.

‘Pennybridge Pioneers’, being the band’s fourth studio album, was my first introduction to Millencolin, a band that I discovered from an Epitaph Records sampler. Never quite taking themselves entirely seriously (as demonstrated on the video for the track ‘Fox’) the infectious melodies and distinctive vocals jolted me, firmly consigning my nu-metal collection (including that limited edition Papa Roach album that came in a tin) to the wheelie bin.

Opening with a whirlwind snare roll before abruptly stopping on a double accent, and blasting back into one of greatest guitar lines I’ve heard, it was easy to fall in love with this record from the opening seconds.

Those who had followed Millencollin’s progression will have seen this fourth album as a much more polished/accessible effort which brings with it new fans, like me, but also disengages those who had bought into their earlier raw sound. Looking back at this record, for me, was the apex of the Millencolin back-catalogue (the ‘Smash’ before the ‘Americana’/‘Conspiracy of One’; the Alan Shearer before the David Nugent; the proper mars bar before the ‘fun-size’ chocolate bar range etc).

At least in my world, keeping firmly in mind that most club shows were at least 14+, I connected with the band further still since Millencolin were one of the few good European punk bands. ‘Pennybridge Pioneers’ managed to deliver what Sum 41 promised but never could (‘It’s all killer, no filler). Let’s face it ‘No Cigar’, ‘Fox’ and the title track remain staples of any decent punk/alternative rock nightclub 15 years later.

Millencolin are back, releasing their new album later this month, and this was a great opportunity to revisit the record that made me fall in love with them initially and simultaneously opening a door to a whole new genre/lifestyle; ‘Pennybridge Pioneers’ is truly a timeless classic.

‘True Brew’ by Millencolin is released on 27th April on Epitaph Records.

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