Social Distortion - Social Distortion (Cover Artwork)

Social Distortion

Social Distortion (1990)


This may be the defining moment for the California punk legends Social Distortion. Whether that's good or bad depends on you opinion, or perhaps your perspective.

The Orange County boys' self-titled record has them perfecting their blend of punk rock with diminuative front man Mike Ness' country and blues sensibilities. Throwing in the rockabilly image to round things out, Social Distortion founded a package that many, many fans and bands have imitated since.

Musically, this is far removed from the fury of "Mommy's Little Monster". Far from the wild abandon of Los Angeles-influenced hardcore, "Social Distortion" is contained, measured, and its all the right notes, right when and where they're supposed to be. "So Far Away" is the appropriate punky, enegetic opener, "Ball and Chain" is the sublime remorseful ballad (and makes for a fine drinking song) while "It Coulda Been Me", complete with its harmonica accomplice, takes the blues-punk hybrid the Clash started further. The la la la's of "Story of My Life" may seem light-hearted and tame, but they fit the record's theme quite well and give it more depth.

Ness manages to vary his lyrical theme throughout, but doesn't stray too far from the mysterious teengae rebel bit. "You know your friends talk bad about me/Your folks say its not supposed to be" on Let It Be Me and "He carried a switchblade knife... Likes to get into fights" toe the fine line between tribute and cliche. Again, Ness manages to redeem himself with a lovely Johnny Cash cover, "Ring of Fire" and the drug addled "Ball and Chain". The latter, a minor hit in 1990, must have sounded like a god-send on the radio, given that the hair metal plastic dinosaurs of the Sunset Strip were still lumbering about the musical mainstream. In one of its memorable lines "I'm lonely and I'm tired/And I can't take any more pain," Ness could have easily been describing his feelings for the sounds coming from the FM.

Unfortunately, it didn't change much. MTV didn't opt for switching the glam image for an Eddie Cochran one, and like the Stray Cats before them, Social D went underground, where a fanatical following met them and went along the next decade or so playing and recording sporadicly, spawning countless imitators, fashion-wise as well and musically, and generally haven't changed much.

Again, depending on your perspective, this is great or just terribly boring. But one can't deny that Mike Ness owns a piece of this punk rock subculture, that when he gets away from the cliche, he can write a damn great lyric, and most importantly, that this album is solid set of good tunes.

"I've sung the blues/For every broken hearted, love sick dream for you/I've paid my dues/Working hard, sweat, blood and tears for you"--So Far Away