Pennywise
Unknown Road


4.0
excellent

Review

by RandyfromPennywise USER (34 Reviews)
June 20th, 2007 | 11 replies


Release Date: 1993 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Unknown Road is unfortunately an overlooked album in the Pennywise catalogue, as it’s one of the best Surf Punk albums from the golden era of that genre.

As you can probably tell, I’m a Pennywise fan. They were the first Punk band I knew. This was the first album I ever bought with my own money, I think. Everyone’s musical journey starts somewhere. This is where mine began. We all go through dozens of phases in our musical tastes, but for all of us there are those enduring albums (and bands) that will always hold a special place in our hearts. Obviously you can see where I’m going. It’s pretty hard for me to look at albums like this completely objectively, as I’ve loved songs like Homesick and Slowdown for 11 years, and I can still remember how happy I was the first time I played the intro to Time To Burn on bass. But personal bias aside, this is an engaging Punk album that saw the band develop musically, and Jim lyrically, while offering up their best material at that point in their career.

In an year defined by Siamese Dream, In Utero and Vs, Surf Punk was marching along nicely just below the mainstream. Dookie and Smash changed a lot of things the following year, and the rest is, er, the present. But bands like NOFX, Pennywise and Bad Religion kept the Surf Punk flag flying high for many years to come, and Unknown Road played an undeniably significant role in establishing Pennywise’s 20 year career. While their self-titled album was full of energy and enthusiasm and expanded upon their debut EPs, it was no more than a solid debut album that needed to be built upon if a successful career was to be had. And so it is that Unknown Road is a marked shift - ah, development - in the Pennywise sound. Gone are the harsh vocals and rushed production, and the interplay between the drums and bass is beyond anything seen in the five years prior. The fact that 11 of the 13 tracks were recorded with Randy Bradbury on bass - rather than Jason Thirsk - is the obvious reason for this, but Byron McMackin’s role shouldn’t be understated either. But above the musical development - heck, the self-titled wasn’t poor by any stretch - the production and recording of the album is one of the most pleasing aspects here. It’s far more polished and refined than anything the band had done up to this point, as Fletcher’s guitars remain ferocious but, crucially, distinguished from the wall of noise that is Pennywise in full flight. With the benefit of hindsight, Unknown Road is unmistakably the link between early, raw Pennywise, and the period of the band’s greatest work, the late ‘90s: there are moments that scream About Time, while there is equally a certain self-title influence.

With a back-catalogue of upwards of 150 songs to choose from, only Homesick and Unknown Road seem to have stood the test of time and feature regularly at Pennywise live shows. Probably fair enough, as Unknown Road, with its iconic piano intro and the fact it’s the title-track, is one of the pre-eminent tracks and Homesick is classic Pennywise - no-nonsense, forceful Punk Rock and positive lyrics with an overriding sense of realism. The chorus is catchy, melodic-yet-assertive Punk and at times the vocal lines are Jim Lindberg at his best: “The city used to be such a beautiful place, But now you can’t walk down the street, And things don’t seem the same. My hands are in the air, It makes no sense to me, And I cannot explain this tragedy.” The bass fill in the middle of the solo in Homesick is, for lack of a better phrase, absolutely sick. The rugged Punk power chords that kick-off the title-track set the scene for the album and the sentiment it draws upon throughout - optimism and realism. The lyrics of the opener speak of missed opportunities and hesitancy - literally, not walking down the unknown road, and staying on the beaten path. It’s a formula that Lindberg has drawn upon on many following albums (many say ad nauseam), but here it was original and engaging. The Offspring-esque fast (yet in no way ‘Hardcore’) Punk is prominent on Unknown Road and the overall sound of the album is largely different from any other Pennywise album. The sound isn’t as ‘full’ or as powerful as the Pennywise albums of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, as the band achieves an attractive mix of unity between the instruments and distinguishing each instrument’s own identity. The blistering guitars and drums are here - as prominent as on any Pennywise record - yet the roaring, formidable sound heard on Straight Ahead and From The Ashes is only seen in glimpses - certainly a positive aspect, as heavy, bustling numbers would seem incongruous here.

The most alluring feature of Unknown Road is probably the consistency. While all Pennywise records have a defined sound which is seldom deviated from, in the case of Unknown Road, this is used to full effect. The formula of fast Surf Punk is explored to its fullest, offering up tracks that would seem at home on a Bad Religion or early-Offspring album - diversity (however minute) has never been a feature of Pennywise: savour it. But like almost all Pennywise albums, there are a handful of tracks that pale into anonymity, largely because of, ahem, their similarity. Tracks like Dying To Know and Nothing fail to distinguish themselves in any discernible way. Nonetheless, You Can Demand and Dying To Know give the middle-section a couple of highlights and the ferocious Vices - which, with it’s themes of substance abuse, would seem more at home on About Time - serves up two minutes of aggressive Punk, with a blatant message. The unmistakable development of the band’s ability to pen harmonies and melodies is apparent throughout the album, with the self-titled album being completely outshone by the choruses and backing vocals here. Certainly the secret track - apparently called Slowdown - is a fun, fast, Punk way to round out the album, displaying Pennywise’s reputation as a tight, energetic live act while letting some lucky fans get in on the act at the same time.

When you buy a Pennywise record, you know what you are getting. Pennywise aren’t a diverse band, but for an early-‘90s Punk - read Surf Punk - album, Unknown Road is up there with the best of them. This music suits surf videos so well it’s crazy. I guess that’s half the reason why it’s called Surf Punk, but anyway. While melodic Punk tends to be more the domain of the Strung Outs and Offsprings of the world, Pennywise incorporate it into this Surf Punk record better than they had previously, and just about as well as they have since. It’s hard to detach myself completely from this album, and I haven’t been able to settle on a rating for this one at all. But all allegiances aside, this album still rocks, and listening to it now - like I haven’t for some time - I can still enjoy it 11 years after buying it. Certainly the zenith of the first phase of Pennywise’s career, and while it’s certainly no masterpiece, it’s a consistent, likeable Punk album that is, if anything, a product of its epoch.

Recommended tracks:

Unknown Road
Homesick
You Can Demand
City Is Burning
Slowdown
(the secret track).



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user ratings (92)
Chart.
3.8
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
RandyfromPennywise
June 20th 2007


752 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Just to prove how much I can't decide on the rating for this one, I'm rating it a 3.5, and the review's a 4.

Aficionado
June 20th 2007


1027 Comments


Such a good band. My favourite being Try to conform. BTW since when was Pennywise surf punk?

RandyfromPennywise
June 20th 2007


752 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Since ever. Surf Punk, Skate Punk, that's Pennywise. Yeah. Yeah?

Aficionado
June 20th 2007


1027 Comments


I just considered them as...punk.

descendents1
June 20th 2007


702 Comments


I used to love Pennywise but they grew so old so fast. After buying a couple of their albums I just grew apathetic about their music. And I don't think that they're surf punk, if you compare them to bands like Agent Orange. There's a distinction between surf and skate punk, which I think are both lame titles for sub-genres. This review is solid, good job.

Aficionado
June 20th 2007


1027 Comments


Agent orange is the closest thing to surf punk...not really Pennywise.

RandyfromPennywise
June 20th 2007


752 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah I don't really consider Pennywise "Surf Punk" either, but I consider this album Surf Punk, that's what I'm saying. The sound here is closer to Surf Punk that anything else Pennywise have done. Some of their later work is more what I'd call 'Skate Punk', but Unknown Road says Surf Punk to me.

RandyfromPennywise
June 20th 2007


752 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Let me just clarify the Surf Punk thing: I don't know if this is Surf Punk, but this is the type of Punk I used to hear when I watched surf videos back in the mid '90s, and the type of music that's best suited to that. Pennywise is generally straight-up Punk Rock, which this is, but the sound is a little different to later Pennywise work.

descendents1
June 20th 2007


702 Comments


I know how surf punk sounds and this album isn't surf punk. People who produce surf movies have limited knowledge outside of surfing and filmaking so I wouldn't trust their musical choices.

RandyfromPennywise
June 21st 2007


752 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah I know, I just think of surf punk probably because they like to surf and I've seen it in surf videos.

pacedown
March 19th 2012


174 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

same here!!! first punk band i ever got to know !!!
however my first pennywise record was Full Circle.



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