Released in 1982 on the heroic SST
label, this was the first album by those loveable hardcore punksters, the Descendents
. At 22:32 minutes it barely qualifies as a "full-length", but they get more mileage (Miloage! Huzzah!)
from 20 minutes than their 1990s punk pop
successors would in a career.
This album is seen as one of the definitive hardcore records, and it certainly offers a number of the genre's identifying marks - noisy guitars, sneering vocals, angst-fuelled trendy-bashing, and a whole lot of songs about girls. But what makes it enduring is a real emotional weight behind some of the lyrics, and a melodic edge to the music that helped inspire a generation of punk pop groups. The music is, on the whole, less angry and more focused than their legendary Fat EP, the first record they cut with singer Milo Aukerman.
And the title was no joke - Milo was indeed off to college (the University of Wisconsin) to study biochemistry, the subject in which he later obtained a PhD and continues to carry out research.
Tracklisting: (total run-time 22:32 minutes)
- Myage (2:00)
- I Wanna Be a Bear (0:42)
- I'm Not a Loser (1:28)
- Parents (1:38)
- Tonyage (0:56)
- M-16 (0:43)
- I'm Not a Punk (1:04)
- Catalina (1:46)
- Suburban Home (1:40)
- Statue of Liberty (1:59)
- Kabuki Girl (1:10)
- Marriage (1:39)
- Hope (2:00)
- Bikeage (2:14)
- Jean Is Dead (1:33)
Most of the songs explore the same kind of lyrical and musical territory as the other flagship hardcore
bands, but the Descendents
were already beginning to show their own idiosyncratic style - less rage, more silliness, and a knack for catchy tunes that would set American punk
evolving into such bands as Weezer
on the one hand, and Blink-182
on the other.
Nevertheless, "I Wanna Be a Bear", "I'm Not a Loser" and "Tonyage" are all swipes at idiot trendies and bandwagon hardcore punks, while "Suburban Home" is an attack on the glossy So-Cal mirage that formed the backdrop to hardcore's rise to notoriety. Meanwhile, "I'm Not a Punk", with its chorus of "I'm just a square going nowhere", introduces an element of self-deprecation that persisted into later songs such as "Coolidge".
(This album also introduced, for better or worse, the running joke of Descendents songs ending in "-age" - "Myage", "Tonyage", "Marriage" and "Bikeage" are all present here, which were to be followed by such releases as the song "Coolidge", the live album Liveage and the tribute album Homage.)
On the last four tracks (three of them written by drummer Bill Stevenson) the band really get into the traits they're best known for - catchy punk-pop and surprisingly, well, "mature" lyrics about girls. "Marriage" is, unexpectedly, not a brattish rant about the pointlessness of this Christian institution, but a teenage love song set to punk rock - "I wanna be your friend / I wanna be with you / I want you to marry me."
"Hope" is the ultimate hardcore anthem, another song about a girl, but this time angry and sneering - "You'll take your bruised little head and you'll come running back to me / You know that I'm gonna be the only one..."
"Bikeage" (honestly, all their songs were about girls) is about a fucked-up little teenager wasting her life - "When you're on the streets with a needle in your arm / Selling your body for another fix..." But the Descendents, of course, were too sweet to leave things like that, and Milo makes things better with a cry of "Save yourself, I need you here." This song is particularly interesting from a 21st century point of view because it sounds an awful lot like the inspiration for the melodic style of the later punk pop bands, particularly Blink 182.
"Jean Is Dead", a tale of teenage suicide, brings the album to a close with a particularly harrowing lyric (for punk anyway) that sets the record above the quality of most other hardcore bands since. And as a special service to you, the lyrics are available here!
Without this album the course of alternative music in the 1990s would have looked a lot different - as would the modern emo scene - and the best thing is, you can listen to the whole genre-defining epic in less time than it takes Sigur Ros to play their first chord.