CD Review of Elva by Unwritten Law

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starstarstarno starno star Label: Interscope Records
Released: 2002
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SoCal seems to be an inexhaustible breeding ground for punk-pop bands, much like it was 20 years ago with what became the hair metal scene. Now batting: San Diego's Unwritten Law, taking a major swipe at the brass ring with Elva, their fourth album. It has all the elements necessary to reel 'em in: bone- crunching guitars, attitude by the truckload and catchy melodies, along with a few naughty words. It's good fun, if short on individuality.

"Mean Girl" gets things off to a promising start, though. Monster guitars piled up next to a bubbly keyboard, vintage Green Day stop-start drumming and a great chorus line in "I'm in love with Mean Girl" make this a hit in waiting. The scorcher "Blame It on Me" is like the Stray Cats on a coke binge, with singer Scott Russo's vocal falling somewhere between Brian Setzer and Trent Reznor (the rest of the time, it's much more Reznor). "Actress, Model…" is a funny tune about two kids with big dreams and no money. And they get major bonus points for exhuming Judge Ruffneck, a character in the Specials song "Stupid Marriage," on "Evolution."

Where the album loses stream is in the songs that were obviously written to be unit shifters. "Sound Siren" is perfectly fine but unremarkable, stealing a chorus from Blink 182 here, a vocal from Third Eye Blind there (Stephan Jenkins is not a role model, people). Ditto "Seein' Red," another modern rock "anthem," even though it's anything but, its lyrics a meditation on futility. "Geronimo" also is a nice, catchy number, but why even write it when 17 other bands have already done so?

If Unwritten Law played to their strengths -- loud, fast, fun -- there would be little stopping them. If it's radio saturation that they crave, on the other hand, so be it, so long as they know it comes with a price. Do you want to be the best you can be, or the richest? Time to pick your poison, gentlemen.

~David Medsker