Author: Sam Dalsheimer, Contributor
Since Social Distortion’s inception in 1978, the Fullerton, CA punk group has stayed true to its revivalist-greaser style. But in a time when gasoline-burning engines are destroying the earth, the band’s counter-cultural nostalgia comes off as irrelevant.
With the recent release of Social Distortion’s seventh album “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes,” their signature blend of punk, country and rockabilly is still present with minor alterations. The production—by sole original member Mike Ness—is the most pristine of any Social Distortion recording. There is a heartland-rock influence à la Springsteen running through the tracks.
The album grabs hold of the listener with the pummeling instrumental opener “Road Zombie,” consisting of a single, tumbling minor-key phrase. The song sounds like the soundtrack to a car chase with Satan, a sensation suddenly negated by the insipid swagger of the following track “California (Hustle and Flow).”
The rest of the album is a well-paced mix of upbeat rockers (“Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown,” “Machine Gun Blues”) and humdrum ballads (“Diamond in the Rough,” “Bakersfield”). Apart from the first track, nothing ever surprises.
Guitar sounds are mixed loud—huge and to the point. The sound is made tidier by the incredibly precise drumming of seasoned studio-veteran Josh Freese (Nine Inch Nails, Devo). Even if he sounds bored churning out rote 4/4 patterns with a few tasteful fills, the guy’s got talent. While Ness has claimed that this album is “stripped down,” it has plenty of moments where trashy power chords are bolstered with female backing vocals and punctuations of piano keys. The overall sheen seems at odds with the “Hard Times” title.
With solely straightforward sounds on the album, the lyrics don’t do much to bolster the sound. The whole album plays as a tapestry of meta-rock-n-roll phrases. Ness references tattoos, motorcycles and various California locales. He even requests for someone to “take me down/take me on down the line,” but phrases like this seem void of any original significance they may have carried.
But what can you expect from a 30-year-old band that has crafted a sound predicated on these sonics and subject matters? Luckily bands like Social Distortion don’t whip out Theremins and banjos to chase trends. Relevancy is a great thing to listen for, but if you’re craving some tightly wound, escapist rock ‘n’ roll with lyrics about engines and alienation, get this album.
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