Poway (a suburb of San Diego), CA, is known as the home of Blink 182 but it's also where another Punk oriented band started, Unwritten Law. In '90, drummer Wade Youman founded the group which went through the typical growing pains and personnel shifts before vocalist Scott Russo, guitarists Steve Morris and Rob Brewer and bassist John Bell became the group's long term line-up.
Early recordings made a name for Unwritten Law as they ran the local scene with Blink 182 and Sprung Monkey. Red Eye Records released "Blue Room" in '94. But maddeningly, their album wasn't always available where they were playing - a victim of spotty indie distribution. That necessitated a change. Unwritten Law signed with Epic Records (a major label) who re-released "Blue Room" the following year and '96 effort "Oz Factor."
While distribution was no longer a problem, neither album made Unwritten Law a household name. "Denied" and "Superman" did nail SoCal airplay as the group toured the U.S. with Blink 182 and Pennywise. But Unwritten Law's tenure with Epic was brief and they moved to Interscope in '97. By that time, Bell had departed with Micah Alboa contributing to the band's self-titled '98 release, featuring "Teenage Suicide." Pat "PK" Kim (from Sprung Monkey) became the permanent bass player as the group joined Vans Warped Tour. While touring the world (they were huge in Australia) occupied much of Unwritten Law's time they final got back to the studio to record '02 album "Elva," containing "Seein' Red."
Some groups are in the right place at the right time. Others happen to be in the wrong place at the right time and it still works out. Thinking they were talking to Jimmy Eat World's management, VH-1 mistakenly invited Unwritten Law to perform an acoustic set on Music In High Places which included performances taped at Yellowstone National Park. When Interscope declined to release "Music In High Places," Unwritten Law moved to Lava Records who issued the disc. There was also a DVD, Live In Yellowstone.
Sometimes a mid-career group needs a little tweaking to either sustain success or move to the next level. Unwritten Law was no different. Shortly after the release of "Music In High Places," Youman got bounced for "personal and professional" reasons. Taking over was No Doubt's Adrian Young who was heard on over half the tracks on the group's '05 outing "Here's To The Mourning." But Tony Palermo, who played on the other tracks proved to be the long term solution. Also, Russo's girlfriend, Aimee Allen composed the lyrics for several songs while Linda Perry co-wrote the set's first single, "Save Me (Wake Up Call)," which broke Top 5 on the Modern Rock chart.
Just when it looked like things were rolling, Unwritten Law fired Brewer over disputes with Russo and other band members. He was not replaced as the group continued as a quartet.
In '06 Unwritten Law decided to release a "Best Of" package. But since they recorded with a number of labels during the course of their career, getting the vital tracks licensed would be damn near impossible. So rather than give lawyers a healthy revenue source for the next few years, the group's current line-up decided to re-record their songs and release them as "The Hit List" in '07. And just to muddy the waters, Interscope released their take (culled from the group's time with the label) on Unwritten Law's "Best Of." Did they do it for spite or profit?
Unwritten Law is a perfectly good SoCal Punk/pop group with the requisite chip on their shoulder augmented by some healthy angst. They play high energy Rock touching numerous styles. The seventeen song set "Elva" is their most accomplished effort. With that many tracks, there's something for everyone - power pop, a touch of Reggae and even the dreaded power ballad. But there is also enough to recommend, including Russo's "Seein' Red" and "Geronimo." Unwritten Law has a strong vocal presence, which is shown to good advantage on "Blame It On Me." The mid-tempo "Actress, Modelů" kicks with a chunky rhythm in the chorus. "Mean Girl" has a throbbing '80s retro feel.
"Here's To The Mourning" continues in the "Elva" vein. Though nihilistic in nature, "Get Up" is hook driven power pop not too far from the jaunty, jangling heard on "Because Of You." Those songs, plus "Save Me (Wake Up Call)" cover the mainstream. The album takes a harder turn on "Lost Control" and the slashing "I Like The Way." "F.I.G.H.T." flexes the group's Nu Metal muscles while "She Says" and "Rejections Cold" are a pair of break-up, break apart songs that come one after the other. The CD wraps up with "Walrus," a Beatles tribute that sounds channeled through Oasis.
Normally, when a group wants to repackage their best or best known songs or present them in a different way, they record a concert and put out a "Greatest Hits Live" set. Rarely does a group back into the studio to update their own stuff. But Unwritten Law is a bit different. "The Hit List" is like a "Greatest Hits Live" album, except it's not live, has better production and there's no crowd noise. Other than thatů Whether the new versions are better or not is a matter of taste. But Unwritten Law can still deliver.
The next choice is Unwritten Law's self-titled album. The group's indie/Epic period is OK but not very compelling.