Social Distortion - 'Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes' (Epitaph Records) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Dom Daley   
Monday, 17 January 2011 05:00

socd176useThe long wait is finally over, one of the most anticipated releases has finally arrived. Since Über Röck took off there have been a few releases I've been really waiting on and boy has this one been worth the wait. Social Distortion are something of a heavyweight in my eyes and it's been quite a while in coming. Stick a label on it and call it what you will; cowpunk, americana, punk rock, roots - it really doesn't matter because ultimately it's a question of quality and class and Social Distortion have an abundance of both class and quality. 


Following 2004's 'Sex, Love And Rock 'n' Roll', here is a mature, focused and menacingly brooding hot rod collection of songs. First thing you notice is what a fantastic sounding album this is and all the ingredients are here to confirm Social Distortion's status as punk rock 'n' roll royalty. Mike Ness sounds in mighty fine voice and I find that when he sings I want to listen and he can make the most mundane or clichéd sound like the most vital piece of information you need to hear, so listen up! 
First track out of the traps is 'Road Zombie' - now I've stated before my general dislike of instrumentals but I'd prefer to call this kind of track more an intro than instrumental - with a great lick that screams Social Distortion before we get into the album proper with 'California (Hustle & Flow)'; rock and fucking roll, Mr Ness. With the gospel singer backing vocals this is pure punk rockin 'Honky Tonk Woman' - think the best of The Four Horsemen or AC/DC old school playing something off 'Exile On Main Street' or even prime time Black Crowes before they went all Allman Brothers on us and you're along the right lines. I was not expecting that if I'm honest but it sounds upbeat and full of life. Maybe Social Distortion are in a damn good place at the minute with an overdriven sound on the solo that boots this one towards its conclusion, it really is a sidestep and whilst it might not be anything like a typical sounding Social Distortion song Mike Ness makes it sound totally SxDx and like they've been playing this kinda music all their lives.


Hot on the heels of that is a more traditional sounding Social Distortion song, 'Gimme The Sweet And Lowdown', with a very catchy vocal hook on the chorus married with a familiar Ness-like guitar run. I've heard it called cowpunk and I suppose that isn't too far off the mark either. Sure this is the same guy who wrote and played 'Mommy's Little Monster' and 'Prison Bound' but it's also a band or a guy who have evolved and grown older absorbing all around and moulded it into the songs taking a pinch of their roots in punk as well as a bit of Dylan, Cash and about a hundred other great bands. Sure had he just played an album full of angsty three chord songs about hard luck I'm sure I, like many others, would have lapped it up but like his solo albums and his work with Social Distortion Ness isn't one to shy away from being different and shaking things up a little and it sounds like the music is all the better for not standing still or playing it safe. 

I feared the worst when Ness lost his partner in crime Dennis Danell and Social Distortion lost a guitar player and cornerstone of the band but that was over a decade ago and on this evidence I'm glad Ness saw fit to carry on and make it to 2011 and the release of this album proves it was the right thing to do. Ably assisted by Johnny "2 bags" Wickersham on guitar, Brent Harding on bass and David Hidalgo Jr on drums they provide Ness with a mighty soundscape and more than play their part in what is shaping up to be one hell of an album.


It sounds both instant and you can tell it has the feeling of an album that will grow and grow which is a quality not many have in this day of instant gratification where people don't take the time to listen and absorb. You can tell even after several listens different songs jump out and grab you and the more I'm playing it the landscape is changing and different tracks are vying for my attention. 'Diamond In The Rough' passed me by early on but after a week's constant playing its hypnotic riff and melody have drawn me in. From the story of rock 'n' roll road trip that is 'Machine Gun Blues' to the heartfelt 'Bakersfield' Ness has a fantastic way of delivering his lyrics - sure they're time honoured topics and content but he sings every word like it's his last and as if every word is the god's honest truth and it always sounds like it's front page news. A quality many many writers can't replicate and they come over insincere but not Ness and there is no better example than 'Bakersfield' and its smokey stroll round the streets that Ness holds dear as he tells the listener his story backed by a great laid back arrangement that has light and shade and ranging tempos to keep the listener engaged. A work of genius and will one day be regarded as one of his best. The song also uses some very impressive backing vocals in what can only be described as a gigantic song (was it really over six minutes long?), sheer class. 'Alone And Forsaken' is a meaty riff with four to the floor and it shows Ness has lost none of his fire and passion for his punk rock roots. 'Writing On The Wall' is more in keeping with his solo material as he kicks back and spills his heart with a songs about love and moving on, a sort of soft song for tough guys, it's whisky-soaked guitar playing and as good as it gets in a genre where Ness is most definitely the king.


On the cd the penultimate track is 'Can't Take It With You' and again the gospel singers are back as the band rock out in a straight down the line punk rock song that marries some heavy riffing guitar licking and piano honking. 'tis a craft in itself to write eleven songs all sounding different yet fitting like a glove and held together by the unmistakable voice that is Mike Ness. Clocking in at over 46 minutes this is an absolute triumph in songwriting. I'd also point out that the vinyl has a bonus disc with extra tracks and comes with this cd of these eleven tracks as well so what are you waiting for, get out there and get on it. Social Distortion have just approved_image_lrgset the bar at an unbelievable height with an album that simply screams quality from every single track. If only all albums were as good as this. Simply magnificent!