Hard Times and Nursey Rhymes
Social Distortion are so popular amongst our writers that the following two reviews for their latest album were sent in. Each one had its own take on it so it would be terribly rude of us not to run both. Read two opinions below, firstly from punk aficionado Pete Craven and then a slightly extended review from the human encyclopedia of music, Alex Gosman. – Ed.
I hadn’t pre-heard any of the material from Social Distortion’s latest album, so went into it cold, straight off the bat.
An instrumental (‘Road Zombie’) opens up proceedings, and sounds great. Hallmark Social D, and the very idea of an instrumental itself is one little utilised on the long-playing format, but when done right can be used to great effect. We then slip in to the hard stuff with ‘California (Hustle and Flow)’ and it’s immediately apparent that the mood is set with an optimistic and cool confident swagger, more in line with their two early nineties albums ‘Social Distortion’ and ‘Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell’. As we push on through the 11 tracks, there’s little, if any, of the distemper that fuelled the much loved ‘White Light, White Heat, White Trash’. The Dillinger-esque homage ‘Machine Gun Blues’ is the punkest number in the pack. Take heed; if you still hang on to the lude boy sounds of old (circa; 1945) then you’d best bust out your dusty copy of ‘Mommy’s Little Monsters’ and keep your head buried in the sand, Social D in 2011 are a zillion miles from The Playpen.
I’ve closely followed this bands musical progression over the years, and the progressive direction of this (their 7th) album makes a lot of sense, as they slow burn thru a collection of songs that utilise classic Americana Rock ‘n’ Roll, set to Mike’s mournful tones, lamenting love, loss, redemption… and hope. Indeed, the album closes with Mike declaring he’s “still alive” and will be “here until the bitter end” and thus closes another chapter of this fabled Punk Survivors tale.
In keeping with ‘I liked their old stuff better’ mentality, there are folks out there who will tell you that Social Distortion’s 1983 debut ‘Mommy’s Little Monster’ is their finest work. Granted, ‘The Creeps’, ‘Another State Of Mind’ and the title track deservedly remain in Social D’s setlists to this day, but in terms of sound, it didn’t really help the band stand out amongst the other leading lights of late 70s/early 80’s Californian punk rock. It was on their 1990 self-titled effort that singer/songwriter/guitarist Mike Ness melded punk rock with his love of American roots music to create the signature Social D sound. If you’ve never heard ‘Story Of My Life’, ‘Ball And Chain’ or even the band’s barnstorming cover of ‘Ring Of Fire’, then you’ve got some catching up to do.
‘Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes’ is the band’s seventh album in 30-plus years, and even though Ness has long been happily settled down with his wife and kids, the old dog still has a few surprises up his sleeve. Having previously covered ‘Under My Thumb’ and ‘Backstreet Girl’, he lets his Rolling Stones influences loose on ‘California (Hustle And Flow)’ and ‘Can’t Take It With You’, both replete with soulful female backing vocals and 70’s swagger.
Quite a departure from those early days, then, but the Social Distortion of old hasn’t left the building just yet; with ‘Gimme The Sweet And Lowdown’ and ‘Machine Gun Blues’ providing the requisite high-octane guitar thrills. And it is testament to the band’s skill that their cover of Hank Williams’ ‘Alone and Forsaken’ sounds no less dark or foreboding than the original, despite its inclusion on a largely upbeat-sounding album.
It isn’t completely flawless; the overly-long ‘Bakersfield’ (complete with corny spoken-word interlude) could have done with some pruning, and the polished production does take the edge off some of the harder, faster songs. It’s a record that arguably shares as much musical territory with Ness’ country/blues-influenced solo album ‘Cheating At Solitaire’ as with previous Social D releases, and it probably won’t strike a chord with the aforementioned ‘Mommy’s Little Monster’ purists.
Overall, though, it’s a fine effort from a band who still have plenty of stories to tell, an ear for a great tune and little concern for passing musical trends. Welcome back, guys; it’s been a while.