Sometimes I wish I were like you, so why won’t you let me show who I am?
Eight years has passed since Sweden’s punk rock golden boys Millencolin have released their iconic full-length Pennybridge Pioneers, and looking back, we can see there is a certain tinge of irony lurking within Nikola Sarcevic’s self-deprecating lyrics (like the excerpt above from “Stop to Think”) that intersperse cold hard truths with dry, quirky humor.
Hailing from the Swedish town of Örebro (which translates quite literally to “pennybridge” in English), Millencolin rose to fame in the early 90’s as part of the skate punk revolution, quickly being snatched up and signed by Epitaph Records. With a new millennium came a new horizon for the band that had gained a fair amount of popularity and praise in Europe and Australia but had yet to capitalize on the success labelmates Rancid, NOFX, and The Offspring had found in America. Epitaph head (and Bad Religion guitarist/co-songwriter) Brett Gurewitz took the band under his wing and produced Pennybridge Pioneers, their highest selling album to date, taking them from outside their comfort zone in the rolling hills of Sweden to record in the rolling hills of Hollywood.
The result is an endless combination of classic Southern California influenced punk rock, American radio pop, and straight ahead rock, the latter being a sound Millencolin’s peers had tested with great aplomb in the latter half of the 1990’s (think: Pennywise, Green Day, and The Offspring). In a way, the mere idea of the band calling themselves pioneers sounds pompous, but Millencolin took their often imitated American influenced sound in a whole new direction, going from a ‘fun band to listen to’ to a contender for one of the best international alternative rock acts.
Revered as a modern day classic by many who grew up in the late-90’s and early-2000’s, Pennybridge Pioneers melds together a tight production value without sounding polished and manufactured. Guitarists Erik Ohlsson and Mathias Färm have never sounded better, ripping right through live-staples such as “No Cigar” and “Devil Me,” never straying too far from familiarity but remaining brand new and distinctive. Fredrik Larzon’s solid drumming is also eloquently focused upon, never taking too much attention away from the rest of the band, but steadily prominent throughout the duration of the album.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects Pennybridge Pioneers brings forth is that while it refuses to completely twist and manipulate the band’s trademark sound, it reshapes what was formerly never broken to begin with. The songs still clock in less than three minutes but reflect a transgression and a large amount of songwriting growth in Sarcevic, who continues having carefree moments (“Fox”) yet portrays vulnerability (the nearly-five minute “The Ballad”). He also manages to dance between the delicate balance of containing a sonically-gripping vocal ability and having pipes designed for belting out poppier numbers (as is displayed on their most recent effort, Machine 15); it is the record that finally solidified the power of Sarcevic’s vocals, and Gurewitz takes full advantage of that notion, putting the spotlight squarely on Nikola.
There is an obvious amount of creative productivity present on Pennybridge Pioneers: from the opening drum roll of “No Cigar,” the memorable riff of “A-Ten,” and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pop-punk spirit of “Pepper.” Its predecessor For Monkeys was rapid and unfocused; the album that followed, Home from Home, rode the alternative rock wave hinted at here and lost sight of what the band stood for. When you go back and listen to the entire catalogue in order, Pennybridge Pioneers continues to stand on its own, sounding as epic as its memorable cover promises.
Like Mother Nature’s most awe-inspiring wonders, such as the seamless ebb and flow of a powerful river, Millencolin’s Pennybridge Pioneers never ceases to amaze with how it takes a simple formula and makes it its own. It may not be the typical album you want to sit back, close your eyes and simply listen to. However, it will uncover the passion you have for life and assist you in reliving your youthful glory years, all while breathing new life into the punk rock landscape for years to come.