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UNWRITTEN LAW – SWAN (Track-by-track Advance Album Review)

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If you need solid proof that the great pop-punk comeback of 2011 is in-progress, look no further than UNWRITTEN LAW. Their first set of all-new material in six years, SWAN presents a band that has not only grown musically, but one that sounds just as hungry after two decades as most hope to sound while just starting out.

Set for release on March 29th, SWAN is not a great pop-punk album.  It’s one of the best straight-up rock albums to be released in the first quarter of ’11 and a likely contender for one of the best of the year overall.

It’s a rare occasion that we do this, but SWAN is an album that demands a track-by-track review. For the true believers on the edge of their seats wondering what to expect, and for the new listeners wondering how UL compares to some of their favorite bands… this one is for you.


The first single to hit the ‘net and radio, “Starships and Apocalypse” brings to mind those perfect summer albums. It’s hard not to think of similar songs from GOOD CHARLOTTE, EVERCLEAR, and LOCAL H at times, but this is UNWRITTEN LAW. The guitars are crunchy, the beats big, and the chorus tailor-made for radio and catchy as hell.


There’s a synth lead on this track that reminds me a lot of the first ANGELS AND AIRWAVES album. The drumming is brisk and punchy, and there’s an airy feel that permeates the entire song. Frontman Scott Russo weaves his voice between a choir that adds to the overall spaciousness of the track.


“Dark days and darker nights/Come get your kicks under the neon lights,” goes the chorus on this one. A song that focuses on a female drug dealer that will “get you up, get you down, get you all around,” taken out of context you could picture this being about a prostitute. “Dark Dayz” is one of the more straight-forward punk numbers present on the album.


Visually, I get a feeling of modern noir here. It’s dirty and dangerous, and it plays like a movie. Of course, I could be totally off the mark. “A white lie and a kiss goodbye…” sounds like the tagline for a pulp novel or crime thriller from the ’50s. “She came like a woman and she left like a girl…” makes the imagination wander.


The first of two ballads on the album, “Sing” is a purely acoustic affair. It’s a love song that’s destined to be in heavy rotation among the female listeners this year. Genuine and heartfelt without getting corny, but it’s my least favorite song of the set.


“I watched my house burn down right in front of my ass” would sound like tough guy posturing in the vein of BLACK FLAG’s “Let it Burn (Because I don’t live there anymore)” if taken out of context. For Russo, the truth is a much sadder reality. Just over two years ago, his San Diego home burned to the ground leaving him and his three children homeless along with his parents, whom also lived at the residence. “Superbad” is a rocker that feels like the dirty parts of SoCal, busting out a lead riff that has a seriously ‘SABBATH groove.


A slow and heavy groove broken only by a march beat on the snare before the hook, the airy feel of “Nevermind” returns just enough to notice before giving you a punch in the gut. At 2:38 the song makes a huge shift. A bass-driven swing beat kicks in while finger snaps and chimes accent Russo’s mellow croon – right before punching you in the gut again with another helping of huge guitars.


An unbelievably infectious jam, DEL brings his unmistakable voice to a track that recalls the best rap/rock collaborations of the past. This is a BIG track, a true rock anthem with a hip-hop flair. How they’ll pull this off live without the presence of “Tha Funkee Homosapien” is questionable, but with a chorus that features the catchiest use of “motherfucker” in recent memory, “Chicken” has “hit”

written all over it.


It’s a break-up song that solidifies the truth behind the end of most relationships: once you’re done, you’redone. Any chance at a reconciliation is usually “too little, too late,” and you’re probably “better off” on your own. In this case, “On My Own” is a perfect segue into the next track…


The kick drum on this mid-tempo ballad is massive. Electronic elements lay the soundbed for the band to build upon, acoustic guitars and something that sounds an awful lot like a steel drum laying in on top. There’s other percussive elements that come into play as if members of PETER GABRIEL’s band are off hiding in the shadows somewhere. Find a beach, a lover, and a bonfire and this is your soundtrack.


The old-school UL returns in force for the final track of the album, and it’s a damn good one. Coming full circle with a reminder of where they started, the band hints at the end  as the story goes – “This could be the end/I’m not holding on/I can’t go on any longer/So listen close my friends/I may be moving on/Please just think of me now when I’m gone/This is our swan song.”

SWAN was originally slated to be UNWRITTEN LAW’s final album, but with a summer run on WARPED TOUR ’11 looming on the horizon and a renewed sense of excitement and passion for playing music, Russo recently stated that this is not the end, but a band “reborn.”

I’d certainly never encourage the band to stop playing music, but if they do have a change of heart and decide that this will remain their “swan song,” it will be the perfect note to go out on. SWAN is the album of UNWRITTEN LAW’s career.

Rating: 4.5/5

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