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

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

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 clichés, 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.