Release Date: Jan 18, 2011
Record label: Epitaph
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Punk/New Wave, Hardcore Punk
These Cali-punk lifers have released only seven albums in a 32-year career, and who can blame 'em: Social D have survived drugs, rehab, death and constant lineup changes. On their sharpest disc since their commercial peak in the early Nineties, Mike Ness confronts a "trail of devastation," over a melodic tumult steeped in rootsy allusions "Gimme Shelter" gospel singers, gritty balladry. A blitz through Hank Williams' "Alone and Forsaken" fades into the sound of wolves howling over ominous feedback.
When I saw Mike Ness perform in Chicago three years ago, he had stiff competition that night: on TV was the first episode of the new American Idol season. Of course, it’s not like most of the audience felt there was a difficult choice to make (there was beery approval when the opening band’s lead singer, a sort of real life Dewey Cox, said “those pussies in Rascal Flatts make the Monkees sound like the Rolling Stones”). Later that night, Ness burned through hits and deep cuts alike but previewed no new songs, which makes Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes that much sweeter.
The smartest thing Social Distortion ever did was embrace country music. In the mid 1980s, following a sizable hardcore hit with “Mommy’s Little Monster,” the band melded their manic punk with messy country and came up with a sound that wasn’t exactly unprecedented (X, for instance, got there first) but was distinctive and rambunctious. And durable: A quarter-century and a handful of albums later, the Los Angeles outfit has barely changed its sound at all, which sounds all the more relevant in the wake of newer acts like the Hold Steady, the Gaslight Anthem and Lucero.
For a veteran band, there's often a fine line between writing and playing in a signature style and just going through the motions, and some of the time it's as much about attitude and intent as anything else. Social Distortion cut their first album in 1983, and well over 25 years later, they have a trademark style, if there's any such thing, a rough-hewn hybrid of punk rock guitar attack and rootsy melodies influenced by classic blues, country, and rockabilly. By now, Mike Ness and his bandmates could probably crank this stuff out in their sleep if they wanted, but 2011's Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes is clearly the work of a band that still gives a damn about their rock & roll, no matter how familiar the surroundings.
The very essence of rock ‘n’ roll Despite maintaining a close association with the LA punk scene throughout their astonishing 32-year career, the fact remains that Social Distortion are not a punk rock band. Broadly hewn from country rock, but also no stranger to a spot of the blues or even rockabilly, ‘Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes’ sounds like it could’ve appeared at any time over the last 50 years, with only frontman Mike Ness’ sharp, wonderfully rich production giving any hint as to its true vintage. In fact, if it were a movie star, this record would be Clint Eastwood hurtling through the desert in a 59 Chevy Impala: a timeless and unmistakable evocation of the America West.
There's no ambiguity in the title of Mike Ness's seventh Social Distortion studio release. In fact, it describes the album quite transparently. The hardscrabble punk legend counterbalances his familiar tales of personal-demon-battling with adulthood lessons he's learned from parenting two sons. Has the Monster now become the Mommy? In Writing On The Wall, 48-year-old Ness sings of his mixed emotions watching his son become a man who no longer sees his dad in a hero's light.
Releasing an album after a long hiatus can be pretty tricky business for artists. There’s already a certain amount of hype built into anything that anybody has to wait for, and fans and critics are ready to jump in with their two cents on whether it was worth the wait or not. Iconic So-Cal rockers Social Distortion are currently facing that conundrum with the release of Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, their first album in six years.
After all of this time, there still appears to be a rather large gulf between the band that Social Distortion wants to be and the band that they want be seen as. Now, this isn’t anything necessarily new, and nothing that is necessarily damning in and of itself either. The band’s 2004 LP Sex, Love, and Rock and Roll , for example, suffered from similar issues, but made up for its inconsistencies with a surprising vibrancy.
Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes breaks a seven-year silence from L.A. punk band Social Distortion, which, at this point, means singer/guitarist Mike Ness. In 2001, guitarist Dennis Danell died of a brain aneurysm, and since then, Ness has carried on as the band’s sole founding member. Social D’s last studio album, Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll was an effective stopgap, the type of record that exists mostly to justify a past-prime band’s continued touring.
Californian punk veterans’ seventh LP proves they’re still full of life. Alistair Lawrence 2011 At this point, singing the blues is very much a personal choice for Mike Ness. Having seen the inimitable 80s West Coast hardcore scene bloom then bust, at his lowest ebb the Social Distortion frontman was accepting payment for gigs in heroin to feed his then habit.
Mommy's favorite little SoCal monsters may have slowed their personal tempos a fraction, but this seventh studio album proves you can take the man out of the punk but you can't take punk outta Mike Ness. The leather-hided and Jack-'n'-Coke-voiced Ness has only improved with age, like a '59 Chevy ragtop with growler pipes. Instrumental "Road Zombie" opens flat-out badass, zero-to-light speed in 2:21, but it's Jonny Wickersham's buzz saw guitar duals with Ness on criminally evil "Machine Gun Blues" and the Stonesy "California (Hustle and Flow)," which recall the Social D of yore.