Social Distortion - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Social Distortion

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (2011)


Social Distortion are a punk institution: They've been around for many years, have lost personnel, been through scrapes and scraps but it appears nothing is able to beat them down. Now, I've never been an avid fan of the band, but whenever I hear of a new album on its way I do get a sort of buzz of anticipation that builds until I hear the record.

That's how it was with Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. I had enjoyed the previous two albums, going back to 1996's White Light, White Heat and the most recent, 2004's Sex, Love and Rock ‘n' Roll, so was full of expectancy for this.

Opening with an instrumental, "Road Zombie" threw me a little, although it serves as almost a call to arms, announcing the album to the masses and moving swiftly into "California (Hustle and Flow)". This song epitomises, for me, what Social Distortion (and Mike Ness) are all about. The songs are stories, tales born out of life experiences, etc., dealing with the highs and lows that face most people–yet with them being put to music and told through lyrics that draw you in and make you feel part of the song.

To add to the punk/roots feel, there are backing singers on "California (Hustle and Flow)" who give it a blues/gospel tone along with the addition of an organ which only serves to fill out the sound even more. (Both feature a number of times as the album progresses, with similar results.) On top of this you have everything that you would expect from Social Distortion with the result being five minutes of warmth that is almost tangible–this is easily my favourite track.

The album continues in this vein across the remaining nine songs, consistently providing a big sound that some may feel is overproduced but which I feel just adds to the experience of the listener. Lyrically, each song will keep you alert as you listen to the tale within and you realise that this is classic Social Distortion. Where else do you expect to hear of "junkies, pimps, winos and whores" other than in a Mike Ness composition ("Machine Gun Blues")?

Social Distortion could never be accused of being a prolific band with this being only their third album in 15 years, but that can be forgiven when you assess the quality of what they release. They have a formula that is tweaked whenever they feel it necessary, but overall you are guaranteed some classic melodic punk rock, with hints of a variety of other influences throughout. It would be wrong to call Ness a genius, but what he does have is the ability to weave words in a way that is rarely equalled, certainly in the punk genre, so comparisons with Springsteen and similar writers are inevitable. Both have an ability to connect with people through their music, but they do it at different levels.

Roll on 2017 for the next album?!