Graded on a Curve: Descendents,
Milo Goes to College

I have a grudge against the Descendents. Sure, the Manhattan Beach, California punks were the first to inject hardcore speed and aggression with catchy melodies, and to come up with the novel idea off writing songs about girls and love and what have you. And that’s exactly the problem. By doing so they invented pop punk, and inspired bands like Blink 182, The Offspring, Green Day, the All-American Rejects and other shitheel bands dedicated to the proposition that success lies in–to paraphrase the great H.L. Mencken–giving the kids what they want and giving it to them good and hard.

It’s unfair to blame perfectly good parents for the crimes of their children, but I do anyway; the Descendents’ 1982 debut Milo Goes to College is a template for unspeakable things to come. Milo Goes to College is a groundbreaking album by a band with an undeniably great backstory–very young suburban kids form band, elect band hanger and bespectacled dweeb Milo Aukerman to be their frontman, and proceed to inspire a later generation to copy their formula with horrific–and commercially successful–results. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case the imitators have proven dangerous.

The Descendents are hardly your “No Future” types–you’ll have to look long and hard to find a band fronted by a guy who, from the band’s beginnings, had his sights set on a career in microbiology. The Descendents of Milo Goes to College care less about the decline of Western Civilization than they do conformity, shitty parents, the suburbs, marriage (they’re for it), hope (they have it), romance (pro-), punk (they’re not), boats (theirs is in need of repair), and bears (they want to be one).

My problem with the Descendents is just this–I can’t listen to them without hearing the shitty bands who followed in their wake. It’s impossible to listen to the Descendents’ past without hearing the unspeakable present, and I defy anyone to listen to “Bikeage, “Hope,” “Jean Is Dead,” or “Marriage” without thinking Blink 182. The songs have the same catchy melodies your mom has come to love, and the same earnest approach to subject matter.

And if I might add a reservation to my grudge, it’s this—Milo Goes to College could have (let’s make that should have) been funnier. If you’re not angry you should at least have the common decency to be amusing, and suburban angst is by its very nature funny, as demonstrated by the 1984 cult film Repo Man. As it is, the funniest thing about Milo Goes to College is the the iconic Milo cartoon likening on the album’s cover. Suburban funny is No Trend’s “Teen Love,” Black Flag’s “T.V. Party,” Gang Green’s “Alcohol” and every song on Red Cross’ 1980 self-titled EP. The humor on Milo Goes to College isn’t lame, exactly, but it’s definitely tame. Aside from “I Wanna Be a Bear” the only real humor to be found is on “Parents” with its lines “I will kill and I will destroy,” which I hope for the Descendents’ sake is a joke.

That said, the song’s on Milo Goes to College make a ferocious din in the great hard and fast hardcore tradition, but without sounding like the vast majority of their cookie-cutter competition. Most hardcore bands either evolved or broke up because they couldn’t find a way out of the box they’d put themselves in, but the Descendents continued to make excellent music within the confines of the genre because their knack for melody made them unique. Me, I prefer bands like the Meat Puppets who completely reinvented themselves, but there are hordes of fans out there who would have wept real tears had the Descendents done a serious makeover.

The Descendents opened the minds of plenty of fans—some of whom would go on to make a lot of green using them as a template—to the potential of a hardcore music whose subject matter wasn’t limited to animus, rage, disgust, and generalized nihilism. Milo Goes to College is the work of a couple of guys whose ambitions extended trashing the local 7-11. They came across (and are) nice guys who wouldn’t think for a moment of destroying your house if you let them stay the night after a gig. They might, in fact, help your kid brother with his science homework. I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say the Descendents of Milo Goes to College were adults. But it’s fair to say they knew the day would come when they’d be ones. And most likely living in the suburbs no less.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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