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Review: Social Distortion, ‘Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: January 18, 2011
Label: Epitaph
Jon Young // January 18, 2011

When southern California’s Social Distortion were getting started, Jimmy Carter occupied the Oval Office and the Sex Pistols were hot news, so merely showing up today would constitute a triumph. But these guys don’t wheeze or wobble for a second on their first album since 2004, roaring like pushy kids determined to make a mark. Leader Mike Ness, the only constant over the years, still howls with a raspy, exhilarating fury like Joe Strummer’s American cousin, sounding every bit the noble, road-tempered electric troubadour.

Social D’s trademark brew of punk, country, and Stonesy blues raunch feels weirdly, surprisingly fresh on Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. The rousing “California (Hustle and Flow),” a shameless retread of “Tumbling Dice” complete with gospel-chick backing singers, casts Ness in the survivor’s role, recalling when he “went too fast with the rhythm and booze” as he ponders the similar excesses of a younger generation, a theme revisited elsewhere. And while the torrid “Machine Gun Blues” overdoses on 1930s gangster clichĂ©s, the obvious pleasure Ness takes in his tough-guy performance is hard to resist.

Quibblers may complain that the sound is too clean, possibly a symptom of obsessive, endless remixing, and wish for more rough edges. Regardless, Ness has reaffirmed his relevance with a vengeance. If he chooses to get sloppier next time around, so much the better.