In 1989, The Unknown were still, well, basically unknown to everyone except its members. The Cleveland band has released four albums since that time, with a loyal and cult following slowly growing. The band, consisting of lead singer Ken Blaze, drummer Wayne Roscoe, guitarist Pete Woodward (who replaced Chris Roscoe who went to Japan) and bassist Brian P. McCafferty, has returned in this format with another hard and heavy punk rock-oriented effort. The sound seems to be a natural evolution of the band’s The Real Thing, a five-song EP released last year to critical praise. If there is one drawback, it might be the fact that with 12 songs, less than 28 minutes seems a bit light. Regardless though, the quartet does what others like Blink-182 and the new boys have done to greater fame and fortune.
The opening “Merry Go Round” is an air-tight punk pop tune that has been done to death thousands of times, but still never loses its infectious riffs and beats. It’s like being on a motorcycle—knowing when the turns are coming and gliding into them easily and comfortably. “State of mind / Let me off the merry go round,” Blaze sings before the ditty peters out. “Postcard” unfortunately doesn’t really do for me the listener. With Blaze rambling through the song like he’s a 17- or 18-year-old Billie Joe Armstrong, the song seems to falter even before the second verse is completed. It basically resembles a punk-by-numbers song kit perfected.
The title track of the record is probably the early highlight, with the band working into a great sound as it continues to build. Groups like Simple Plan and even, to a lesser extent, early Soul Asylum, can be heard in the tune. “And now I know the radio’s a masquerade / And I’ll be crazy to carry on with the charade,” he sings as Roscoe and Woodward shine on this tune. But even on this song, the band seems to sugar-coated a lot of the riffs, making them extremely radio friendly. It seems a tad odd given the topic of the song. Thankfully “She’s Sorry” picks the album up again by its sonic bootstraps, a lovable Green Day-esque melody that is tight and infectious. “Do You Know That Girl?” takes the album down a notch, not in intensity but in overall quality. This comes off more like a demo or b-side, with the tight cavity-inducing harmonies all over the song.
What is the biggest knock against the album is how some songs tend to blend seamlessly into each other, without little difference. “Picture This” is a great tune and has some great moments, but overall you can’t really see that much difference between this number and others. One notable difference is the frantic conclusion that comes off like nu metal light, which is actually an asset here. The bubbly power pop of “Little Green Shirt” is fabulous, with McCafferty’s bassline setting the tune on the right track for sure. “Hey you, pretty girl, do you even notice me,” Blaze sings just before hitting the halfway point. And “Teenage Dream” builds on this momentum.
Although a couple of songs miss the mark, you cannot deny the band’s musicianship or intensity. It’s all over this album! A perfect example is the adorable “Two Weeks” that basically encapsulates the band. “We use to sit and talk about the ways that we would never grow up,” Blaze nails before the harmonies are heard in the distance. Fans of Blink-182 can definitely find solace in the song. “Things in Life” is possibly the low point of the record, with the shimmer pop replaced by a grittier Rancid-styled punk rant that is out of the band’s realm. Overall, this album is fine if you love pop punk, power pop or radio-friendly punk, despite the album’s title.
// Notes from the Road
"On release day for their latest Big Mess, Grouplove packed Baby's in Brooklyn for a sweaty show.READ the article