A new life for Unwritten Law

    Speaking in generalizations, everyone from California has at least one blink-182 album. If you’re up to snuff on the pan-California skate-punk scene, the record you have is Dude Ranch. (If yours is Enema of the State, congratulations: You belong to the legions of out-of-the-loop MTV-fed Midwesterners.) Among the memorable Dude Ranch singles is a little number called “Josie,” about an admittedly cool girlfriend that delivers gifts of Sombrero’s Mexican food and likes “UL and DHC.” Back when I was in middle school, only the cool kids knew that UL meant Unwritten Law.

    Those in the know had heard of the Poway-raised Unwritten Law from the strength of their first two albums, 1995’s Blue Room and 1996’s Oz Factor, both of which, like Dude Ranch, consisted of high-energy Southern California skate-punk laden with pop hooks and shout-out choruses. Two years later, Unwritten Law came out with a self-titled third album, which was strong and well polished, containing the hit single (at least on the local airwaves) “Cailin.” In the SoCal scene, “the black album,” as we affectionately referred to it, was a must-own.

    At this time, Unwritten Law was comprised of vocalist Scott Russo, guitarists Rob Brewer and Steve Morris, bassist Pat Kim (just late of Sprung Monkey) and drummer Wade Youman. By 2002, “Seein’ Red” was on Total Request Live, and its accompanying album, Elva, brought Unwritten Law into the mainstream. Soon after, a quasi-acoustic album recorded in Yellowstone, Wyo., tugged at the heartstrings of the TRL youth. The album did more than just show Unwritten Law’s tender side; it highlighted the craftsmanship of their songwriting, as their older punk rave-ups translated surprisingly well to the high altitudes and acoustic guitars.

    Unwritten Law’s next album, Here’s to the Mourning, is set for release in early 2005. Like the rest of their catalog, it follows two Unwritten Law precedents: the desire and ability to rock, and the desire and ability to craft memorable pop hooks. Despite the album title, this is no sad-boy emo affair, but an energetic, if overproduced, rock album that makes good use of the band’s tutelage in SoCal pop-punk. They have moved further down the Elva path, toward a more mainstream rock sound, and away from the faster punk of their youth. But who else besides NOFX still plays skate-punk like we remember it?

    Pat Kim, the band’s bassist, is wary of the “SoCal surf/skate scene” label that many old fans and critics have pigeonholed them into.

    “Other than Scott, no one really skates in this band,” Kim said. “I skated in high school, and I don’t surf, so … I think we just wrote a really great rock record, you know?”

    Regardless of the rock or punk medium, Unwritten Law continues to put together well-made, enjoyable music, projecting energy from their pores and smooth harmonies from their throats. At the very least, Kim assures that the songs sound great live. “Unwritten Law is a live band,” he said.

    Unwritten Law’s live show will arrive in their native San Diego on Friday, Dec. 3, when they play a free show in Price Center Plaza at 8 p.m., as part of the Thank God It’s Over (T.G.I.O.) celebration that leads into finals week. It will be a sort of homecoming for the group, most of whom still live in San Diego. They recognize the appeal of their old music and never forget the tunes of yore, even if they have moved in a decidedly mainstream rock direction over the last couple of years.

    Unwritten Law are not a band that will change the face of rock music. Unwritten Law are a band designated to beachfront-cruising convertibles filled with tanned, beautiful faces. Unwritten Law are a band that makes old fans decry the new albums while tapping their feet to the new singles playing in shopping malls. Unwritten Law are a band that you see on a Friday night, and have a damn good time doing it.

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