Friday, February 8, 2002 @ 5:20 AM
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On their new single Black Rebel Motorcycle Club croon, “Whatever happened to my rock ‘n’ roll?” Good question. While music geeks are currently craning their necks to find the next sonic neutron bomb that will lay waste to the current bland wasteland that is today’s Billboard charts, they’re inundated with pop automatons like Britney, flaccid nu-metal a la the appropriately named Limp Bizkit, and, perhaps most disturbingly, kiddie-punk records that have less punch than any track from an episode of K.I.D.S. Incorporated. Offenders such as SR-71, Sum 41 and Blink 182 (hike!) have strip-mined punk rock’s speed and melody from the Buzzcocks and the Ramones, but have effectively turned the original primal spirit of the genre into nothing more than musical wallpaper.
Although on first glance, alterna-punkers Unwritten Law may seem like yet another harmless group of radio-friendly rockers, there’s more to the San Diego quintet than initially graces the ear. The first single off Elva, the mid-tempo ballad, “Seein’ Red,” seems gestated of out the womb of MTV with its loud/soft dynamics, soaring melody and anthemic chorus, but it travels in and out the ear like any of the fluff from the Blinks of the world. Mercifully however, the song is unlike any other on the record. Elva opens with the metallic stomp of “Mean Girl,” which features a riff that wouldn’t seem out of place on an Iron Maiden record, and pushes on through more than ten tracks of muscular, if slightly unoriginal, crunch. Unwritten Law also get bonus points for musical experimentation that their fellow MTV-whoring peers wouldn’t touch, such as the bits of synth on “Evolution,” the Byrds-by-way-of-Offspring folk strums of “Rest Of My Life,” and the reggae bounce of “How You Feel.”
While Elva succeeds with a strong mix of hooks, harmonies and heart, it suffers a bit from its own professionalism. The album is so well-produced, every song crafted for potential airplay, and each chorus yearning to grab you by the throat, that it feels a bit calculated. Still, ya can’t fault a band for solid songwriting, and Unwritten Law certainly have more to offer in that department than their Fisher-Price punk rock brethren. Elva certainly won’t revive rock ‘n’ roll, but it won’t completely kill it off either.