Social Distortion – Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes

  • Bobby Gorman posted
  • Reviews

Social Distortion

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes - Epitaph Records

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Social Distortion only have a grand total of seven albums in their 32 year career. They’re more than simply a punk rock staple, they’re a music staple for all genres and in the same vein, never limit themselves to only the one singular style. They merge punk with blues with country with bluegrass and some sixties pop so well that even in their earlier years they dubbed it the “cow-punk” genre and have never looked back.

On Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, the band’s third album in fifteen years, Social Distortion continue that trend – creating a punk rock album who’s roots are far removed from the 4/4 time signature.

You can hear the difference from the opening chords of California (Hustle and Flow). There’s definite punk leanings embedded throughout, but Ness and the boys don’t stop there and turn the tune into blues/gospel effort propelled even further by a chorus of female vocals singing in the background (kind of like Big D and the Kids Table did with Fluent in Stroll). This isn’t the only time they do that, as the female vocals make appearances in a few tracks – most notably on Can’t Take It With You.

Of course, Hard Times isn’t all gospel and blues – Social D still packs a punch and they’re not afraid to rip it out when needed. So while you may have some alt-country sounds in the six minute middle trackBakersfield, Ness returns to his punk rock days on Gimme The Sweet and Lowdown, Still Alive, Far Side of Nowhere and Diamond in The Rough (a clear highlight). These songs, however, don’t just spit out venomous angst as quick as possible, this is Social Distortion punk rock; and it’s a style that’s unmistakable. The guitar work is controlled and strong, as he takes his time to get where he needs to be. At times it can feel a tad self-indulgence, but then you remember its Social Distortion and they’ve earned the right to do so.

Ness vocals are strong, raspy but clear. His lyrics have evolved past the drug addled content of his youth, but there’s still something unique and sincere in there. I mean, there’s really nothing special in “I wake up, drink my coffee/ put on my pants and comb my hair” but man, that line gets me every time.  Then there’s the simple fact that who else can have an album where one song is about gangsters in the 1930s with lyrics like “I’m a gangster, 1934, Junkies, winos, pimps and whores/ and all you men, women and kids best get out the way” and follow that a few songs later with Writing On The Wall, a love song to his teenage son.  Find another album with that scope of lyrical reach and I’ll be impressed.

Now this isn’t a perfect album, but it doesn’t need to be. This is Social Distortion, a bit more grown up and a bit more produced than ever before. There may be a few forgettable tunes in the mix but as a whole, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes shows how Social Distortion have been able to stay active in the scene for so long despite not spitting out a new album every year. They take their time, and when they do deliver a new one, its well worth the wait.