The Descendents - Milo Goes to College (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Descendents

Milo Goes to College (1982)

New Alliance

It was a few years ago at Riot Fest Denver (RIP) when I finally got to see The Descendents live. Many bands at Riot Fest announce beforehand that they’re going to be playing one of their albums all the way through so that it appears in all the advertising for the festival, but not The Descendents. As Milo Auckerman took the stage with a backpack asking if he was in the “Punk Rock 101 class,” he then turned to the audience and announced the big surprise: they were going to play Milo Goes to College in its entirety. I was unbelievably happy to see them perform one of my all-time favorite albums live, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Auckerman cut the homophobic language from “I’m Not a Loser” as he sang it, acknowledging that they had grown up and had matured on certain issues. But, if he wanted to edit out everything problematic about the album, well, there wouldn’t have much of the album left to sing.

Since I signed up to do this album for Descendents week, I’ve been wrestling with it. I first got this album when I was 16 and absolutely loved it. It’s a fast and furious mix between pop-punk and hardcore that’s just dripping with teenage angst and which set the blueprint for a lot of bands to come. Blink-182 have basically spent their first fie albums trying to recreate Milo Goes to College. But as I listen to it now in my 30’s I start to realize that this is one of the most offensive albums I’ve ever heard, and not in a Sex Pistols sense of challenging the morals of the powerful, but in a Ricky Gervais way of punching down on a lot of marginalized groups. Besides “I’m Not a Loser” being wildly homophobic, “Catalina” is one of the most misogynistic punk songs ever written, “Kabuki Girl” is shockingly racist, “Hope” is basically a proto-incel anthem, and “Bikeage” is unnecessarily mean and slut-shaming towards the song’s subject. But it remains one of my all-time favorite albums, and of course I have to remind myself that it was written by a bunch of teenagers in 1982 who probably don’t feel the same way about a lot of things today in 2019 as they did back in 1982. When I point out the way certain classic albums are sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise fucked up, I get called out in the comment section by a lot of people who think I’m not taking that kind of context into account (and by some people who just want to deny reality and say “that’s not what the song means”) and I hear you and I absolutely am taking their age and the era into account. Hell, why else would I be giving this album a four and a half star rating? But while I can’t exactly judge these guys by my standards for something they wrote when they were kids (God, the terrible things I said and did when I was a teenager), I also don’t feel like I can write this review in good conscience without bringing up these issues.

Now, some of you are probably wondering at this point why I’m calling “Catalina” sexist, and I don’t blame you because the most sexist joke in the whole song, which is repeated twice, is one that I didn’t get until I had been listening to this album for over a decade. But once I figured it out, it seemed to become as clear as day that the line “The only fish I smell is on the deck of my boat” is a reference to the age old urban myth and dirty joke claiming that vaginas smell like fish. It’s a pretty gross and dismissive way to talk about women but if it wasn’t paired with “Hope” and “Bikeage” on this album, and a few other songs on later albums, it probably wouldn’t come off as misogynist as it does. But “Catalina” is just the worst offender in a number of early Descendents songs that actively hate women.

But, like I said, I want to talk about what’s great about this album, and there’s a lot that’s great about it. The album is such a perfect encapsulation of that moment of teenage angst in the later years of high school that you’re almost willing to forgive its every flaw for the pure, unadulterated adolescent anger that it brings to your stereo speakers. “Suburban Home” is one of the best punk songs about the plague that is suburban sprawl and the monotonous personalities that tend to come out of suburban neighborhoods. “Parents” has probably aged the most poorly, especially when performed live by a now 56 year old man, but no matter how much your eyes roll back into your head at the futility and silliness of a song like “Parents,” some part of you distinctly remembers a time when related to that song’s lyrics perfectly. Tony Lombardo was certainly the most talented musician in the band at the time, and his bass lines are big standouts on this album, such as on the album opener, “Myage,” and the similarly titled “Tonyage.”. “Myage” is one of the best opening tracks in punk because of how subtly it rolls out the full power of the guitars and drums in the first few seconds of the song. “Tonyage” might be my favorite song on the album because its lyrics, far from being poetic or metaphorical, have an unexpected angry elegance to them that gets them easily stuck in your head. I periodically do love to remind people, quoting from “Tonyage,” that “I hate everything and I hate you.”

We all made mistakes when we were younger, and I’m sure if I was looking back on myself at the same age The Descendents were when they recorded Milo Goes to College, I’d have a lot to call myself out on as well. I hope what I have presented doesn’t just come off as an indictment of one of my favorite records, but legitimately shows you how much I’m off two minds about this album. It’s a pretty offensive album, but that’s because of the same reason that it’s such a great album: it was made by teenagers, in all their flawed, teenage glory. (Okay, Tony Lombardo was 37 when this album came out, but otherwise, teenagers.) It’s a screwed up, tilted, jaded view of the world with all the energy of a young teenager pressed into one furious and ferocious record that rightly stands as one of the greatest punk albums ever made, flaws and all.