Review Summary: Unwritten Law pick up right where they left off in 2005 and create their most inspired record in the process
When I read that Unwritten Law were coming back from hiatus, I was thrilled; when I read that Swan
will be the group’s swan song, I was bummed. Unwritten Law is one of those bands that I grew up with, and I have a hard time letting go of my early favorites (for example, when Crossbreed broke up in late '10, I felt like a part of my childhood died), especially when they are still producing quality material (2005's Here's To The Mourning
was a great album and second best to Elva
in Unwritten Law’s discography). But then things took a turn (for the best) after the guys in Unwritten Law felt how well they gelled together in the studio, and instead of being a swan song, the new album turned out to be a resurrection one.
And I’m glad, I appreciate that these guys have decided to keep going, especially since Swan
, a record that will start a new chapter in Unwritten Law's story, is such an excellent album. Musically, it continues right where predecessor Here’s To The Mourning
left off, dropping even more of the band’s punk roots and replacing them with a more distinct rock sound with big poppy hooks. That’s not a bad thing though, because Unwritten Law have always had a nice poppy vibe to their brand of punk rock, it's just more evident than ever before on their two most recent releases, and besides, it works for the band’s advantage. The arena rock-styled wailing in songs like "Let You Go" and "Nevermind", the accentuated role of Scott Russo's trademark "whoa whoa
"’s and "oh-oh-oh
"’s, the cheesy yet enjoyable group chants and handclaps, the joyous, bouncy rhythms – all channel a distinct poppy vibe and all work so damn well, pushing Swan
right up there alongside Elva
and Here's To The Mourning
What I especially like about Swan
is that it does sound as inspired as the band promised it’ll be. While mellow songs are no new feat for Unwritten Law, they sound genuinely heartfelt and honest here like they did in the days of Elva
. Actually, the whole album does. Whether it be Unwritten Law’s trademark punk rock sound on "Starships and Apocalypse", or the arena rock stylings featured on "Nevermind", or the successful rap-rock (in 2011!) party anthem "Chicken (Ready To Go)", the record just sounds down to earth and honest. Even when Russo reverts to his vintage, more carefree lyricism, it sounds strangely veracious, for example, when he proclaims in "Let You Go": "Well there’s one - I’m here for fun / and there’s two – I make the rules / well there’s three – it’s all about me / and there’s four – well there’s no more"
. Maybe it’s the tone, or maybe it’s the delivery, but the point is, Swan
is the most bona fide thing the band has ever done. Years past now I will probably still remember Unwritten Law from Elva
period first and foremost - that fun punk rock band that had the occasional thoughtful song - but Swan
's familiar, warm feel most certainly evokes lovely feelings and memories. This makes Swan
predominantly an album for the fans of the band, and for the band itself.
My only gripe with Swan
is that it lacks a true commanding anthem like "Seeing Red" off Elva
or "Celebration Song." off Here’s To The Mourning
. All the songs are good, easily distinguishable and most have big choruses, but there isn’t a clear cut standout to be found on Swan
, not to me at least. The closest thing to a pure-blooded representative is the energetic closer "Swan Song", but it ends somewhat abruptly and with it, the album does too. The first single and album opener "Starships and Apocalypse" could potentially do the trick as well, but listening to it, while it has the classic Unwritten Law feel and mood, it's just a little too conventional to be a true ambassador for Swan
, because while the album does have its own sound and personality, it's too intricate to be embodied by a single classic-style Unwritten Law song.
It has been fun seeing the guys grow as musicians since the days of their third, self-titled studio album, which was my first taste of them. They are still clearly having fun, but as a collective, are doing their thing better now than ever before. When we used to think about Unwritten Law, we thought of Scott Russo and his distinct voice carrying the band’s songs (not that the instrumentation was bad, Russo’s just always been the driving force behind Unwritten Law). Now we should think of Unwritten Law as a collective of well-established musicians playing solid ’n’ smooth rock music for the sake of enjoyment. Everything seems to be in place, and while Russo is still undoubtedly the band's lead man, everyone seem to have an equally important role. Swan
is the band's most mature record, and even though it doesn't touch the greatness of Elva
as an extremely fun punk rock album to cruise around to in summer, it does come close to it as another quality Unwritten Law record. The band has re-found its sense of purpose, and Swan
is a testament to that.