Blink and you missed 'em.
Hey, kids! You say you used to love Blink 182 until they “sold out” with Enema of the State (yeah, some sell-out)? You say Green Day has let you down ever since Insomniac? Well then, drop all your piercings and hold off on that next tattoo while I hip you to the sounds of Sweden’s way-talented pop-punk band of their very own, Millencolin! Certainly you’ve heard of them, no? If you’re any fan of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 game on the PlayStation then I know you have. I’ve grinded many a rail and busted a few 900s to the refrains of “No Cigar” countless times while dishing it out against Hawk and Lasek.
So thank your lucky stars for the fine people at Sony to bring you some good tunes in their best-selling video games. Oh sure, Millencolin have been around for quite a while but it wasn’t until I became an armchair skateboarder that I was even aware of the group. You see, I too became disillusioned by the whole pop-punk genre myself. Of course, it probably would have helped had I strayed away from the major labels to actually dig for the gems such as Pennybridge Pioneers, but how’s a supposed “older” guy like me to know this if he’s only on the fringe of the sound at best?
Being skaters themselves, guitarists Erik Ohlsson, Mathias Farm and bassist/vocalist Nikola Sarcevic formed Millencolin back in 1992. After recording a demo entitled “Goofy” in ‘93, drummer Fredrik Larzon joined the group and the band have made happy history ever since. But this really isn’t the same kind of catchy punk that both Blink 182 and Green Day are up to. Millencolin often employs a similar brand of thoughtful lyrics that Bad Religion features, and its music is closer to that of a group like Lagwagon. Yet even that description only scratches the surface, as the band’s overall performance and message go a bit deeper (plus these guys are much more musically versatile than Lagwagon).
Opening with the positive, pro-independence “No Cigar”, Pennybridge Pioneers sallies forth across 14 tunes of divine riffs, powerful vocals, a steady beat, and a nice mix of humor and honest lyricism that those “other” punky bands seem to be lacking anymore. So for every “I won’t waste my time fitting in / ‘Cause I don’t think contrast is a sin” (from “No Cigar”), there’s a “She’s my world, she’s so rad / She’s the best ride I ever had” (from “Fox”, a bouncy little number about Sarcevic’s silverfox scooter) to come back and temper the atmosphere. It makes for a nice balance, showing that Millencolin can play it both ways on the serious/fun scale with no problem at all.
Indeed, it’s part of this “singing about what you like” charm that makes Millencolin so endearing. On “Devil Me”, Nikola lets you know that “Yes, I’m a Yugoslav, indeed a Swede / Got two brothers, girlfriend, dad and mom” and that “I’m not an ace on bass, it’s what I face / But yeah, I think it’s king to sing”. Sarcevic runs the lyrical gamut, singing from everything about shopping and religion (“Material Boy”) to realizing his dreams (“Right About Now”) and playing in a band (“The Mayfly”). It’s as though he’s really taking the time to write lyrics that the fans and friends can really relate to, and I admire that. It pushes Millencolin ahead of their peers, and makes Pennybridge Pioneers an essential listen.
Some hardcore fans of the group cried foul and decreed that this album is “too slow” on the tempo. But all I hear is great music. Granted, I’m not a purist with this genre, as I admittedly don’t own a huge selection of skate rock/pop-punk albums. But I did find Pennybridge Pioneers to be great enough to land in my Best of 2000 list last year. And this all thanks to a skateboard video game. What can I tell ya? I’m a fan.