This “review “has been months in the making but I figure if it took Social Distortion 6 years to come out with a new CD then it can take me 6 months to find the time and energy to write about it.
I realize it might be irrelevant at this point, but given that the record company recently released the video for “Machine Gun Blues”, they at least think this CD has a long sales cycle. And you know what, I agree. Happily punk music and Social Distortion don’t follow whatever norms are left of the so called music “industry”.
I also wanted to give myself time to listen to the CD, record, LP, download whatever you call it these days, front to back and back again numerous times. Experience tells me many of my favorite Social D. songs were weeks, months or even years in the listening. Like some exotic piece of sushi, some of the best songs are an acquired taste. Glaring exceptions are my favorite songs from “White Light, White Heat, White Trash” CD. My first.
I know, I know, I in no way resemble a professional or even unprofessional music “critic”. What qualifies me to even attempt to analyze and pass on my opinions about a work of music?
Well, I am a massive Social Distortion fan, own every song they’ve put out (and some they haven’t) and while I am partially uncomfortable and wholly unqualified to sit in judgment of what took many, much more talented and gifted people months, or in this case years to put together, I’m doing it anyway.
Now what’s more punk rock than that?
ROAD ZOMBIE: My favorite track on the CD. No lyrics just bad ass guitar melodies from Ness and Co. Full disclosure I first heard this track when Social D. played Mulcahey’s pub in Long Island in 2007. Though I had taken in many a Social D. show, I had uncharacteristically worked my way up to the front couple of “rows” and got my first “up close and personal” if you will, of Social D. live. Since then, I fight and maneuver to the front as much as possible for every punk show. I missed punk during my teenage years so now I’m making up for lost time.
In this instance, Mike Ness came out like an outlaw, bandana over face playing this kick ass tune that I later found out to be “Road Zombie”. It was raucous, it was loud and it was vintage Social D. While, I didn’t know the title of the song at the time and had never heard it before, I liked It straight away and now that it’s finally on the old i-pod, have to force myself to listen no more than 3 times in a row per session or I become like that little rat in a cage in those drug addiction tests. Road Zombie is classic Social Distortion and that’s why it’s my favorite track on the CD and probably in my top 10 of Social D songs of all time.
FAVORITE LYRIC: None. Song doesn’t have lyrics. But I imagine it’s about being on the road, touring so much you’ve become a sleep deprived, guitar playing zombie.
CALIFORNIA HUSTLE AND FLOW: Least favorite track on the CD. Ness channels the Rolling Stones and 70s Elvis with the soulful sounding background singers that for my money, just sound out of place. The Stones are legendary but only “alright” to me and Elvis rocked, even during the fat years (“Suspicious Minds” anyone?) but for Social Distortion this style of music doesn’t fly for me. It comes off bluesy, cheesy and decidedly not the least bit punk.
I respect Ness’s freedom to experiment and after this many years he’s certainly earned the right. But for my money, unless you’re into the Black Crowes, then I’d save the 99 cent download on this one.
FAVORITE LYRIC: None really.
GIMME THE SWEET AND LOWDOWN: This song took a while but it grew on me. And while also a touch bluesy. It has a more modern day social d. sound reminiscent of 2004’s “Sex, Love and Rock N Roll” and would have been at home on that CD.
FAVORITE LYRIC: “You gotta get right or get left don’t you know”
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH: An altogether very listenable song, this is not vintage or hardcore punk Social Distortion but the lyrics really get to me. I don’t suppose to know what Ness was thinking when he wrote this one, but it seems like a lyric written by a middle aged punk rocker that’s been through some shit and come through it all the wiser. Feels like he’s talking about himself when he was a teen, or maybe passing along a little wisdom to his own young sons. When the harmonies kick in its hard not to sing along.
FAVORITE LYRIC: “You’re dirty and you’re damaged, all you need is a little love”
MACHINE GUN BLUES: I noticed this was all over satellite radio before the CD was release. Epitaph put together a nice video for it, so I guess this is the official “hit single”.
Yet I still dig it. It’s vintage outlaw Social Distortion. Lyrics take you back to another time in Hollywood when Ness might have been a gangster instead of a punk rocker. Once again, the harmonies on “I’m al…..read…y goooo…nnne”.. (Also a good Eagle’s tune) are hard to beat and I love the theme, which could mean onto the next score but also gone from this life, a foregone conclusion that bad guys don’t win. Machine Gun Blues sounds like an ode to Bonnie and Clyde and the 1930s gangster lifestyle. Certainly not Ness’s first. The video ain’t bad either. In the end, the good guy is the bad guy and he gets his just desserts just as the song suggest.
FAVORITE LYRIC: “I’m sorry for the things I’ve done, if indeed we do cross paths it’s nothing personal”
Some people never understand, it’s just business!
BAKERSFIELD: Ah Bakersfield… heard it many a time at Social D. shows as it sapped the energy out of the crowd and sobered the fans right up. But it’s not a bad song at all… it’s just more country-bluesy, ballady rock and roll from Ness and while if I’m ever in the mood for some “easy listening punk” (hey, it happens), this song will be on the playlist, I’d save the 99 cents on the download and get my fill at the concert cause God knows it’s probably gonna get played. BTW, Bakersfield, home to a few good alt-country artists isn’t THAT bad. I wonder how the Social D. fans in Bakersfield feel about this tune when Ness plays it.
FAVORITE LYRIC: “I can’t seem to make it on my own”
FAR SIDE OF NOWHERE: My buddy “Peyo” from the punkabilly band “Rudos Wild” way down in Uruguay said it best when he joked that this was Ness’s “Shania Twain” song. Exactly! “I wake up and drink my coffee…” “The birds are singing”. So glad Ness pulled himself out of the dirt and filth, but Ness is way too happy go lucky on this one. I’m happy he’s happy but I like it best when he writes me songs about the pain and misery! I guess this one’s for the girls??!!
FAVORITE LYRIC: None
ALONE AND FORSAKEN: This little light weight and predictable ditty grows on you about ½ way through and I can’t accuse Ness to being “too happy” on this one. The melody is mad simple and the lyrics are somewhat sung in a story telling prose. Would I ever download it on its own? Nah… but since it’s on the CD, I give it a good listen every now and again.
FAVORITE LYRIC: “Forsaken, forgotten without any love”.
Been there, felt that.
WRITING ON THE WALL: People might accuse me of losing my edge when I say, I love this song. I’m man enough to admit here publicly that I’m a sentimental wussy more than I usually admit to anyone privately. CONFESSION: I can still tear up when I hear that damned Titanic song! Sorry, was that TMI?
This song sounds like Ness struggling to raise and keep connected to one of his young sons as he’s perhaps reaching that stage when even a rock star dad is not cool anymore. It’s heart tugging, even for me, a dude without kids. Maybe that’s why it connects for me. I probably am at a place in my life where I should / would have expected to have a family and I can imagine what Ness is going through.
Or maybe, he’s just a master lyricist and paints a good if painful picture of the drama in his everyday life. I sure hope his son, if that is indeed who he wrote it for, appreciates it. It’s a classic.
FAVORITE LYRIC: “I’m hopelessly aware of the good and bad traits we share”
CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU: Ness revives the soulful backup singers and it seems to work a little better here. And while I generally don’t dig the bluesy elements, I do dig this song and look forward to hearing it in concert sans the 70s style back-up singers.
FAVORITE LYRIC: This song is chock full of ‘em… but “Never seen a hearse with a luggage rack”, not sure if that’s original Ness or not, but it’s simple wisdom that can’t be repeated too often to any credit card carrying North American (of which I’m one).
STILL ALIVE: OK, as any fan knows and as mentioned here before, Ness has been in the punk game for a while, seen a lot of stuff and been through a lot. This song is an ode to his lasting power and while it’s well deserved and perhaps had to be written and recorded, I wouldn’t normally download it.
FAVORITE LYRIC: “With a guitar in my hand I stand a little taller” From the back to the front page. From the gutter to the stage”.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF: Yeah man, I dig this goodbye song to a former lover (I assume). This song is hard to classify. I guess it’s just a straight ahead rock and roll ballad but I really dig the lyrics, melody and harmonies in the chorus. It’s definitely hooky and not very hard at all but I still like it.
FAVORITE LYRIC: “I’ll walk away but baby take care of yourself”
I WON’T RUN NO MORE: Ness really ends the CD strong with the last few songs and this song is hooky and once again, not very hardcore punk but alas again, I still would download it. Very listenable.
FAVORITE LYRIC: “And when you’re sick and tired of playing all the games and maybe realize that nothing’s gonna change, you said you wanted less, but you really wanted more. There comes a time in life when you must tell yourself, I won’t run no more”
DOWN HERE (WITH THE REST OF US) – Acoustic: Not a new song, an acoustic version from the tune off the White Light, White Heat CD… and a precursor to Ness’s rumored upcoming acoustic CD.
After hearing “Cold Feelings” acoustic live in concert and now this song acoustic I must say I can’t wait for that one. Acoustic has been over done in many genres, but not in punk. This song is a classic and perfectly displays Ness’s ability to meld honky tonk, roots country with punk for that perfect mix of Punkabilly… which is a major reason why I love this band.
FAVORITE LYRIC: “No one’s immune now to a world full of problems. No one’s exempt now from a world of pain?”
“I tried hard now to do the right thing, yet I wonder why I still do what’s wrong”
“That’s the way it goes and I know how you feel”
So what’s my overall recommendation for “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes”? Well aside from a great title the CD is pretty solid and has some really good gems in there.
If you are a hard core Social Distortion fan from back in the day, it may not be “punk” enough for you. If you’re more of the type of fan who appreciates the wide variety in this legendary band’s body of work, well this is another bullet in that gun and demonstrates Ness’s versatility.
And if you’ve never heard of Social D. at all, give it a listen, you may dig the songs I hate, and hate the songs I dig. I’m not naive enough to believe it’s my way or the highway kind of thing, I often tend to like things others dismiss and dislike things others rave over (electronic music anyone, no pun intended).
And in the end, who cares what I have to say anyway? Well, nonetheless I said it. And whether anyone cares is immaterial to me. But feel free to write to me and tell me how much you care anyway. He, he.