Social Distortion’s newest studio offering, Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes is a collection of eleven rough and tough rock tunes about the rough and tough times we live in. Social D lovers will rejoice in that fact that this is the best record the band has done in years, and those who are only casual listeners will find themselves hunting for a leather jacket and yearning for a tattoo.
Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes comes heavier with the band’s older, fuzzier, roots. There’s still a blues and old country twang to what Social D is doing, but they’ve got that Johnny Thunders punk vibe back in tow. Vocalist/guitarist Mike Ness’s voice is still a throaty blend of world-weary traveler and tired, tough, punk rock icon. Ness has been batting around since the late seventies, living most of that time on the road, and he pours that life into each one of these songs. “Diamond In The Rough” is framed around that feeling and is really the first stand out track on the record. The pulse of the song is a simple, driving, blues riff that allows Ness to sing his heart out, especially during the chorus.
As the album progresses Social D toss in all aspects of their long career. “Machine Gun Blues” is a tough guy anthem laid over a thick guitar sound and a sing along chorus. “Can’t Take It With You” is a nod to the band’s early and fast paced punk years but still has a modern blues/gospel swing to it, while “Bakersfield” feels more like something a solo Mike Ness would’ve done.
Nothing seems to be off limits here and the result is something missing in modern rock and roll, the good time. So much rock out there now has so many pretenses to it, so much posturing and preening, that it’s really just stopped rocking. Social D spits in the face of that premise, holding a pissed off middle finger up to the music industry and continuing to do whatever they want.
One of the most brutally honest songs on the record is the Hank Williams SR cover “Alone And Forsaken”. Ness and his cronies take what was already a brilliant song of heartbreak and completely make it their own. I don’t mean they do a neat cover; I mean they own the song entirely. The way Devo did with the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” or Johnny Cash did with Trent Reznor’s “Hurt”. Ness means every word he sings as though he’d written them. The musical make up is four on the floor rocking without losing the integrity of the mellower and more melancholy original. If I had one complaint on the album it’d be that this cover wasn’t placed in the middle, because it would’ve been a powerful turning point for Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes.
While nothing on Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes veers too far off the Social D map (there’s no rap guests or polka), it does feel like the most honest album the band has released in a while. This is an album that feels like a fuck you to all the sickeningly self-aware indie rock bands, the shoe gazing strum and mumble core bands and everybody who has to put on airs before putting on a good show. If The Decembrists are the elite, uber cool college kids sitting around smirking and drinking PBR, Social D is the bunch sitting at the bar, drinking whiskey and looking to punch those elite college boys right in their smug, non-rocking faces. Mike Ness might be one of the prettiest boys in rock, but he sure doesn’t sing like he is.
CRAVEONLINE RATING 8 OUT OF 10