1997 was a big transition year for a lot of 90’s-era punk bands. Despite Blink-182’s Dude Ranch launching that year, ushering in a new line of acts, more snotty and poppy; the energy embodied by many of the bands which had been around since the early part of the decade started to calm down a little and grow up. One of the most noticeable of these was Millencolin and their album For Monkeys.
Millencolin laid down the law in the mid-90’s with Tiny Tunes (1994) and Life on a Plate (1995). Fast and energetic albums full of Epitaph-ready speedy punk, mixed with a smattering of unexpected, but enjoyable ska portions. Their youthfulness was evident, but all the more fun for it.
When For Monkeys dropped, the band immediately warned their audience that they weren’t going to get the same thing this time around. “Puzzle” lays it all out for the listener right away:
Third album, less of ska and not so many fast ones
more of puppy, pushy songs, those that we do best now.
That’s not to say that For Monkeys doesn’t have its number of fast songs with driving beats. The next song, “Lozin’ Must,” is pretty damn quick. But even here you can hear drummer Fredrik Larzon playing an up-tempo but basic beat, nothing like his energetic early work. This would be a common theme throughout the album, with Larzon only breaking out with some nice heel-toe drumming only a few times.
Aside from the few ska songs, “Trendy Winds” is probably the song that best evokes the memory of older Millencolin songs. Meanwhile, “Twenty-Two” seemed to be designed as the most radio-friendly track on the album.
And so this discussion arrives at where we come around to Millencolin’s transition, though. Whilst their earlier works were best categorized as fast melodic punk with ska infusion, and their later works fall into something more along the lines of straight-up rock, For Monkeys straddles that line in the best way possible.
What is most surprising is how well Millencolin played their non-punk songs here. Something, in my opinion, they haven’t been able to really replicate since. “Black Gold” stands as one of the true great tour songs. “Random I Am” mixes ska and punk effectively, while “Monkey Boogie” is a kick to listen to. Hands down, the transition of the laid-back “Entrance at Rudebrook” dropping into super-fast album finale “Lowlife” still stands as one of the best one-two punches in punk rock.
But that’s just the thing: I’ve found few people who like both pre and post-For Monkeys Millencolin. In the same vein as Metallica, you’re either for the pre-Black Album stuff, or game for the generic hard rock on that album onward.
For myself, For Monkeys was the last truly enjoyable Millencolin album (1999’s The Melancholy Collection of earlier works and b-sides notwithstanding). The later works got progressively more straight-up rock and, by Home from Home, my love affair with them was done. For other fans, their five albums since are great listens. Are Millencolin one of the most obvious examples of a punk band transitioning into a more mature, yet lower-tempo band? I think so. It is up to the fan to decide for themselves whether that change was for good or ill.