Jawbreaker’s debut album stands out like every other in the influential trio’s four album discography. Released in 1990, ‘Unfun’ was first made to CD two years later with three added bonus tracks from the Whack and Blight EP. Unfun sees a young band developing a sound that they would later capitalize on in future works. Musically it is generally faster, catchier but rawer in production and front man Blake Schwarzenbach’s rough voice goes well with the music. The San Francisco group’s signature lyrics were still the most appealing aspect about them here.
Unfun’s is characterized by Blake’s raspier-than-ever vocals and a catchy sound that lies somewhere between pop punk and hardcore. Indeed, Jawbreaker’s influence from many SST bands is most noticeable here. Blake’s keen sense of melody shines through rough edged songs like the opening anthem Want
and the bass driven Busy
. Unfun’s recurring theme of despair and isolation is not uncommon for Jawbreaker but here it is delivered more through faster and shorter (but not necessarily ‘upbeat’) songs as oppose to some epic outings found later (Bivouac
, Condition Oakland
, Accident Prone
) however the wandering instrumental that tails off in Fine Day
are early signs of this. Overall the record isn’t the most ambitious as they’ve done (it makes up for it with the energy) but can rival almost any classic pop punk record, purely for the uniqueness. Unfun’s only real flaw is its share of filler or songs that run together. But the overall quality consistency in the songs relieves that aspect for the most part.
Though they are sometimes grouped in with other early nineties pop punk bands, that simple label just doesn’t do the band justice and Schwarzenbach’s poetic, mature and introspective lyrics put them far ahead of many. The majority of the lyrics deal with relationships (but never sound cliché), state of mind and melancholic stories of personal experiences of an outcast that sound so honest it’s hard not to feel for them. Some are more obscure and leave meaning up for interpretation. Want
carries the relationship premise as Blake declares the lines “So now you know where I come from, my secret’s come undone, my heart revealed my cause”. Incomplete
sees Blake in familiar territory - telling off anyone who disproves of the band for ‘going soft’ or ‘selling out’ akin to Boxcar
from ‘24 Hour Revenge Therapy’ with lyrics like “You don't like the way we sound, we don't like the way you hear; sorry we ain't hard enough to piss your parents off”. Lawn
tells a tale of an anonymous family man who is drowning in confusion and doubt (“Took off one day, he ran an errand; He kissed his kids, started walking and couldn't stop, wandered for years, looking for the good life”). Fine Day
with the misleading title is a solid example of the affecting theme (“Fine day if you’re not me”).
Even though Unfun is not Jawbreaker’s best record, it undoubtedly contains some of their best songs. Want
is popular among fans and rightfully so. An impressive vocal outing, fast riffs, and some intense lyrics start the album off well. Fine Day
could pass as a future Jawbreaker song with its remarkable guitar line, vibrant bass of Chris Bauermeister and then a drifting, intriguing instrumental second half. Wound
is one of the heavier and shorter songs here (but still has some melody to it) with Blake’s brash singing, abrasive guitar and frantic drumming of Adam Pfahler. Drone
, which might be considered a filler track to some, is an aggressive tune filled with muffled vocals and distortion that drags a bit long at four minutes. It even has a recorded spoken word part, something the band would do also do later (i.e. Jack Kerouac in Condition Oakland
and Christopher Walken in Jet Black
is an another highlight as it boasts one of the best choruses on the album.
‘Unfun’ may not be the strongest starting point to get into the band but for anyone else this is a must have. Other than a few forgettable tracks this is just as worthy as any of the bands albums and on its own an above average punk record that stands above most of its kind. The lyrics are absolute tops and musically a lot more upbeat than they would suggest. A great, inspired and passionate debut but Unfun tells just a quater the story of one of punk’s greats.