Jawbreaker - Unfun [reissue] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Unfun [reissue] (2010)


There really is no definitive album in Jawbreaker's discography, but in that sense, Unfun may be just as crucial as anything else in their catalogue.

The spectacularly heralded, endlessly romanticized Bay Area punk band produced four full-lengths with so many widely ranging points of contention among critics and fans regarding the band's musical trajectory and career decisions, it's left no one album to claim as the band's essential. If you ask Allmusic, they'll tell you 1993's 24 Hour Revenge Therapy is tops, with 1995's Dear You and 1990's Unfun in close range. Ask Steve Albini and he'll call it a "decent, if standard pop punk record of the type that was pretty common in the mid-90s"--and he produced the fucking thing. And if you navigate to Pitchfork, you'll see they took the time to shit all over Dear You--twice--before qualifying this recent reissue of the band's debut LP as "irrepressibly fun." Less jaded fans are probably prone to calling Dear You the classic; scene fixtures and musicians like Bob Nanna tend to place 24 Hour on said pedestal. In this reviewer's opinion, the band seemed to improve with every passing release (though the pronounced remaster on Unfun begs to differ the merits of said evaluation).

Still, though, trying to regard a place for Jawbreaker's first full-length within the canon of their catalogue seems near impossible, but that vague notion of status also makes it a little more vital to the full "Jawbreaker experience." In turn, perhaps that's what warrants a proper reissue of Unfun. Blackball's redux offers a remaster of the entire record, along with a bonus track--the 7" mix of "Busy." The band's 1989 EP, Whack & Blite, is here too, though it appeared on all original CD pressings anyhow. I don't believe the original 7" liner notes were replicated in the original Unfun booklet, however, and here they're represented for perusal in all their Xeroxed glory. Sound-wise, the remaster seems to add a little more "pop" to the overall mix; the percussive nuances are more distinct as well. As for the alternate "Busy" offered, Blake Schwarzenbach's voice seems a little sharper and the bass is turned up a bit, but it's largely not all that different.

Of course, the record itself has aged incredibly well. From Schwarzenbach's macadam-encrusted yelps on fan-favorite opener "Want" and the driven, emotional thrust on "Fine Day" that would hint at a career made on heartbreaking restraint, to the nimble, distortion-dipped fingering on "Busy" and Schwarzenbach's nasal, desperate commands on "Gutless" not to fall behind, its unfiltered, raw surge seemed relentless. Sure, the melodies were a little unrefined and the songs often stagnantly operated on the same rough, tumbling plane, but it still made for a bustling, impressive debut all the same. That it was a mere foundation for the ambitious, big hooks of 24 Hour and the polished moroseness of Dear You hardly hurts its relevance--Unfun was where they had the forward charge but still knew to occasionally proceed with caution. And hell, Whack & Blite closer, "Eye-5" was easily one of the most memorable songs in the front half of the band's catalogue, spiraling into an epic, sound clip-laden finish the band would rarely replicate in form for years.

So perhaps the minor bonus features here themselves are what makes Unfun just a little more essential, but the Jawbreaker chronology is still so overanalyzed and prodded at that missing out on any point could very well be remiss.

Unfun (2010 Remastered Edition)