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Unwritten Law – Swan
Swan - BreakSilence Records
Unwritten Law and I go back, way back. Some how or another I possessed the band’s complete discography (including the original and out of print rarity Blue Room) in my early obsession over CD collecting. I was young, and just happened to hear their breakout hit “Seein Red” on my local radio station. Looking back, there’s nothing terribly spectacular about the single, but I was hungry for new bands and didn’t have a large network outside of mainstream radio, so the Australian punk rockers (emphasis on the rock) served their purpose for my sixteen year-old self.
Admittedly I recently tried listening to one of my old favourites, Elva, and let’s just say time hasn’t done the disc any favours. So naturally I was rather sceptical when gearing up for my first listen of their latest work, Swan.
Sometimes I hate being right.
After a few years of dormancy, Unwritten Law seems to beheading down a career path bringing to mind the downward spiral of Good Charlotte. Right from lead vocalist Scott Russo’s opening words on “Starships & Apocalypse,” the four-piece sounds like punkers turned thug life. A quick gander over to their Facebook profile reveals an image born of cheesy sunglasses, straight-rim hats, and decked out gold chains and miscellaneous “bling.” There’s so much “in your face” attitude and casual profanity it’s hard to take them seriously. They try a little tongue in cheek cheekiness with some jabs at ditsy mainstream lyrics (“sing about something/everybody get drunk drunk”), but just end up coming across obnoxious themselves.
The most frustrating part of Swan is how flat everything falls. Take for instance the conflicting messages in “Last Chance” and “Love Love Love.” The former describes – for lack of a more eloquent term – a guy who has a thing for a heart-breaking-slut. Phrases like “she came like a woman and left like a girl” do little more than role eyes – making the pure, utopian outlook of love on the latter feel forced and insincere. Try following the song up with the statement “I’ve taken one or two hearts for a test-drive” (“Swan Song”) and even an otherwise catchy dose of single-worthy rhythm can’t save the band from themselves.
That being said, I’ve always respected the band’s acoustic adaptations (Music In High Places remains a go to stand alone acoustic showpiece of an album), and the lone diamond in the rough “Sing” is reminiscent of the depth that once reeled me in. But a 1:10 success ratio on the album is hardly enough to keep me coming back – especially when songs like “Superbad” feature the vocabulary of a preschooler (“cause I’m bad, bad, superbad, go run home and tell your mom and dad”).
Considering that Swan’s musical roots range from competent to outright catchy (see “Let You Go”), I’m probably being more critical than most. Still, as someone with a history with the group, I can see a distinction between the Unwritten Law of past memory, and the obnoxious attitude defining the present. Maybe I’ve just outgrown the band – or they’ve outgrown me – either way I can safely say that I won’t enjoy seeing Swan sitting alongside my beloved Unwritten Law collection.