Pop Unknown If Arsenic Fails, Try Algebra (Deep Elm)
Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., Dec. 3, 1999
If Arsenic Fails, Try Algebra (Deep Elm)The idea of love being the carrot on a stick that will solve all your problems is the linchpin of many an insipid pop song. Because punk rock evolved in disgusted opposition to this pixie-dust philosophy, the music has historically gagged itself on matters of the heart. Pop Unknown's raw-nerve brand of delicate emotional honesty seems to strive toward a healthier balance of romance and rebellion. The local quartet's sound combines melody and crunch along with unabashed vulnerability in place of empty beer cans. If Arsenic Fails, Try Algebra (a title sure to resonate with those of us who are mathematically challenged) begins with "Head in the Sand," a brash, hook-laden gem that would be the obvious choice for radio. From there, Pop Unknown explores more mellifluous terrain within the slow-building "An Offering." If John Hughes still made movies for teenagers, he could do a lot worse than bedding the anticlimax with a forever-longing tune like "Last to Know." The esoteric "Forward = Rewind" uses languid guitar interplay and a flight attendant reciting the safety drill to evoke the bittersweet dissonance of remembering something good that's gone. Although If Arsenic Fails, Try Algebra requires certain mood-related concessions from the listener, Pop Unknown's lack of hackneyed, love-conquers-all drivel makes it a fair trade.