There's an entire epoch of punk that some of us just missed. Three years before I was born, the Ramones were recording their first fundamental album — and I didn't hear it until nearly two decades later. Everything I know about the Sex Pistols I admittedly learned from a documentary, and my earliest encounter with Glenn Danzig was a music video for "Mother," with which I was mesmerized. And I'm not ashamed. I was all about Big Audio Dynamite and had absolutely no Clash, but I was still raucously punk rock in the '80s — even if I was listening to a lot of Phil Collins cassettes (big sister) and was down with N.W.A. (big brothers).
In high school, my friends who scrawled "Punx not dead" on all their stuff wore $80 skate shoes and ordered their albums (CDs, not vinyl) and must-have punk paraphernalia (band T-shirts, pins, stickers, patches, spiked belts) online. Our parents actually carpooled us to shows in Suburbans and Saturns, and so I came of age in an era of sound that was much more aggravating than aggressive — pop-punk more packaged than a five-pound bag of cheese corn.
But all of this isn't to say that the '90s didn't produce more meaningful punk music. Important derivatives erupted since the gabba-gabba heyday of punk: straightedge, hardcore, emo-core, ska-core, and most applicably, pop-punk. And although a lot of the pop-punk outfits left a coppery, commercial taste like pennies in my mouth, some were pioneers of a sound that transcended the typical hook and catchy crap and was instead acoustic, metallic, and fantastic all at once — punk and rock rather than punk rock.
The San Diego-based quintet Unwritten Law is a '90s rock 'n' roll realization of power-pop-punk with a bang. The group came to the forefront of the SoCal scene with its 1995 debut Blue Room, released on an independent label. Touring extensively, the band eventually signed with Epic, re-releasing Blue Room and their sophomore effort, Oz Factor, in 1996. Although both albums arenít particularly noteworthy, the skate-punk serenades didn't go unnoticed. Interscope's interest in the band resulted in a record deal and the 1998 release of Unwritten Law's self-titled piece de resistance — strengthening a sound to really showcase frontman Scott Russo's vocal stylings, and realizing the rage behind the raw guitar riff.
Four years later, Unwritten Law follows up the fierceness with Elva (Interscope). The album exudes the same intensity and depth-defying sound of the former, revitalizing the range and the rage through the soft, breathy ballad "Seein' Red," to the Electric Frankenstein energy behind "Nick & Phil." The subsequent supporting tour passes through San Antonio on Saturday, March 16. I ordered my copy of Elva online, memorized all the words, and am ready to punk shit up.