Robert Chesley

Review – Social Distortion’s “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes”

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Seminole So-Cal punkers, Social Distortion released their highly anticipated album last week. How does it stack up with their legendary body of work?

Social Distortion is a band that is on everyone’s short list of favorite bands. I remember the first time I heard their songs growing up with punk music. They defined the “So-Cal” sound and perfected it. They have been around since ’79 and have been touring fairly nonstop ever since. Their latest effort, “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes” has been one of the most anticipated albums in the punk rock world for a while now.

One the initial listen it is a clear departure from the traditional Social Distortion sound. Sure, you can hear that warm guitar sound, but it is obviously played at a slower tempo then what many fans (including myself) is used to from a Social Distortion record. Mike Ness has spent a great part of the last few years mixing and re-recording a lot of the songs in the studio. While their records have always sounded polished, this one sounds a lot more “clean” than their other records. From someone who’s favorite record was “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll”, this one doesn’t sound like it has nearly the same energy or fire behind it.

To describe the record in terms of genre it sounds a lot more like a “classic” rock record with an emphasis on more “blues” less “rockabilly”. It isn’t bad. It’s just a little different. Reminds me a lot of “Mainliner”. The songs are a little bit longer for the most part, I’m not sure I would classify much of the album as “punk rock”. As a Social Distortion record, it’s really solid. I can see myself going back and listening to a few of the songs again and again. Would I put any of the songs on a mix tape? I’m not so sure. The single “Machine Gun Blues” is the closest to what most people would consider a “Social Distortion” song. Upon further listening, the album reminds me much more of Mike Ness’s solo records, instead with an emphasis on “blues” instead of “country”.

So for the bullet list:

Classic Sound. I’m a fan of classic rock and blues and this is a great record.
Mike Ness still has it. The guitar work is some of his most complicated work.
Breaks the mold. It isn’t quite the same Social Distortion you may have grown up with, but it still has that charm.

Odd backup singers. There are some strange female backing singers that I don’t recall hearing in Social Distortion songs before. They were a little jarring at first and I’m kind of mixed about them now.

More like a Mike Ness solo record. I loved his solo work, but this doesn’t sound much like the Social Distortion of years past.

More filler. Seems like they could have cut a few of the songs off of this album and it would have flowed a little better.

Too much polish. They spent over 7 years preparing this album and it feels a little too polished.

In closing, is the record worth buying? Most fans will probably already have gobbled this one up by now. If this is your first foray into Social Distortion, you may not like some of their other more famous work. I wouldn’t chalk this up as their weakest release, but it doesn’t really feel like their better releases. My favorite tracks on the record were “Road Zombie”, “Alone and Forsaken”, and “Machine Gun Blues”. I felt overall it was an enjoyable listen. Didn’t really invoke me to go out and cruise around and listen to the record as some of their other releases have. There wasn’t really a track that I could pinpoint that made me absolutely cringe, but if I were to choose the weakest track for me it was probably “Bakersfield”. It just felt really long. Overall, if you are a fan of Social Distortion or “Classic Rock Blues” you’ll probably find something you like on this release.

Here is a cut from the album called “Machine Gun Blues”:

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