Looking back at a career that has spanned some 30 years, what stands out most about Social Distortion is the band’s staunch faithfulness in the music they play, whatever direction it veers onto. Mike Ness (the only remaining original member; vocalist; and overall band leader) and the persona he carries has progressed through the years from anguished punk rogue to a tortured soul to finally, a modern-day statesman of punk.
Unlike other musicians who reinvent themselves to fit in with the times, Ness hasn’t tried to change; he’s stayed the same but just grown-up. He’s the real deal when it comes to modern-day punk godfathers, and it’s as close as we’re going to get nowadays to someone like him. On this album, Ness further solidifies his forte: a mixture of Johnny Cash, Rolling Stones at their (arguably) best and plain old-school punk rock, and it’s good to know that for the majority, it works. Opener ‘Zombie Highway’ is an instrumental that wouldn’t be out of place next to the punk-surf sound of ‘Pipe Line’ by Johnny Thunders.
Single ‘California (Hustle And Flow)’ starts off with a riff in the style of T-Rex, and soon kicks in with female vocals that control and shape the song. While it’s extremely unoriginal, the hooks and swagger that are present make the song a keeper. ‘Gimme The Sweet And Lowdown’ is a driving track that slides a little closer to old-school punk, yet still keeps things buoyant and melodic. Hank Williams cover ‘Alone And Forsaken’ gets a little punk make-over on here, and as a result becomes probably the most interesting tracks on the album.
‘Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes’ benefits from Ness‘ delivery, which is upbeat and keeps you listening, and also the straight-up melody. The only real flaw is that the maturity sometimes rears its ugly head and as a result the band rarely cut loose, like old. Ness seems far less angry and more comfortable as he’s older, which may be great for his health, but makes for a more submissive listening experience.
While punk die-hards may give this album the thumbs-down, it’s got a rock ‘n’ roll legitimacy about it, and at this stage in any band’s career that’s not a bad thing at all.
Written by Rhys Milsom
Founder & Editor for DEAD PRESS! | Atheist and antitheist. | Judge of the quick & the dead since 1989.