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Music Review: Jawbreaker – Unfun (20th Anniversary Edition)

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Long before the Blink 182s and emo-minded bands of the world took pop punk to the mainstream, San Francisco group Jawbreaker created a hardcore-influenced yet melodic, often times emotional and dark punk rock sound with an infectious pop edge that was way ahead of its time. They made influential records – four of them in five years between 1990 and 1995 – and did so without the help or need of heavy airplay on MTV, mainstream rock radio or social networking sites, having instead created buzz and success for itself in the indie/college rock radio realm.

Jawbreaker’s inspiration on punk and the emo movement is abundant. In 2003, a tribute album called Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault was released by Dying Wish Records and featured the likes of a young Fall Out Boy, as well as punk veterans Face To Face, Sparta and others. Other more emo-ish acts like Saves The Day cite the Bay Area band as a prime influence, while Brand New, Rise Against and Lawrence Arms are among many punk rock bands who have covered Jawbreaker cuts. A punk band from Vancouver has even named itself after Jawbreaker’s landmark first album, 1990’s Unfun.

Remastered from the original analog tapes by John Golden and released at the end of March on Blackball Records, the 20th anniversary edition of Unfun is available in CD, digital and vinyl formats, the latter for the first time since 1992. Included along with the expanded CD version – from the original 12 tracks to 16 – is a 24-page booklet (with lyrics), the three tracks from the band’s debut 1989 EP Whack & Blite and the (unlisted) 7-inch version of “Busy.”

Throughout the album, you hear Jawbreaker’s raw and hard-driving sound, and for most tracks, it makes for memorable material. Hit college radio singles like the highly melodic and bass-led first track “Want,” for instance, gives listeners an immediate glimpse of the three-man band’s full sound and pop sensibilities, particularly on its catchy, “I Want You” chorus.

Led by singer/left-handed guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach, a lot of Unfun’s’s lyrics are personal and emotive in nature. Standout “Busy,” for example, finds the singer trying to be a helping hand to a friend suffering from a serious mental breakdown, while on “Gutless” he questions whether another associate is truly being him/herself.

But Blake sings his band’s material with a raspy tone that matches the hard-edged punk rock chords he strikes with authority throughout the disc – as opposed to high-pitched wails typical of emo/punk acts that would form many years later.

Much like another late ‘80s/early ‘90s punk-inspired band, The Pixies, Jawbreaker’s popularity has only grown since its breakup in the mid-’90s. For those who need to be reminded why this band serves as an everlasting inspiration in punk (and associated) rock circles or never got a chance to hear them in its eight-year career (1988-1996), the reissue of Unfun serves as a near-perfect sample of its work, one which took punk rock to a whole new level.

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.