Social Distortion – [Album]

Saturday, 22 January 2011

When the press release announcing that Social Distortion had signed a new record deal with Epitaph Records went out in the middle of last year, no one was really shocked but there was a gratified chorus of, “Well, it's about time” that went up. That response was understandable; in their thirty-three-year history, Social D has released a host of good punk albums on a series of different labels, but never for “the” punk label that can safely say it is the most successful in the genre. The combination was perfect; one of the most storied punk bands coming to roost at the most storied and successful punk label? It just felt right.

As soon as the cheers died down though, the conjecture and questioning began. Social D hadn't released an album in seven years at that point, so the question of what might be coming was a perfectly valid one and, now that Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes has arrived, it will definitely take fans a minute to adjust to what they're hearing as “Road Zombie” opens the record and then gives way to “California (Hustle And Flow),” with its' rhythm and blues overtones and chorus of female backing singers. On first listen, fans will be floored by the first sounds this new Social Distortion album makes. There's polish and sophistication present here in Mike Ness' performances here, and the singer isn't pushing as hard as he used to through lines like “Runnin' round like you're front page news/ Lonely eyes and your motorcycle boots/ Tattooed heart and your jet-black hair/ Runnin' round like you don't care,” the guitars aren't so dense and beefy, and the songs are just leaner as a whole.

“What happened here,” you plead.” What happened which caused Social Distortion to lighten up?”

And then it hits you. Not that much about Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes is different from any of Social D's other albums, only the wrapping paper has changed. Really, all “California” does is re-write “Misery Loves Company,” but it takes a minute for listeners (any listener) to put that together; Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes is the logical extension of where Social Distortion – and Mike Ness, through his solo recordings – has been headed for over two decades, this album just happens to be the tipping point where that fact becomes impossible to ignore anymore.

Through the eleven tracks that comprise Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes, it's possible to trace the act of every line Social D and the band's singer have drawn for themselves over the last three decades converging into one. Strains of country, punk, rock n' roll, rockabilly and singer-songwriter folk all come together in songs like “Diamond In The Rough,” “Machine Gun Blues,” “Bakersfield,” “Writing On The Wall” and “Can't Take It With You” and present themselves as a solid and seamless amalgam that can really only be called rock-punk because those are the two sounds that always manifest first, in that order. The speedy, chunky and ham-fisted rhythm figures that have been the rule on every Social Distortion album from Mommy's Little Monster up to and including Sex, Love And Rock and Rock n' Roll have been altered to include delicacy and finer songwriting as a factor; now, the tales of hard luck and hard feelings that always dominated and drove the band's music previously are now tightly contained into Ness' lyrics. There is no room for it in the music because the musical portion of this album is absorbed in making sure that there are no stray sparks of chaos or questionable breaks in the record's overall design. In that way, Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes is a rousing success; the band ages gracefully here, and manages to both slow down and try new things (within the band's scope, if not Ness' – who has been playing with a lot of these ideas on his own for years) without giving long-time fans a clear reason to scream and claim the band has abandoned them.



Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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