Wine gets better with age, if you have the patience. Whiskey and beer are always pretty good. Social Distortion, the long running, iconic SoCal punk rock band, are more like the latter — consistently satisfying pretty much every time.
Following up 2004's Sex, Drugs And Rock 'N Roll, Social D's new full-length, Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes, finds singer/guitarist/punkabilly poet Mike Ness switching up the brand a little bit, throwing in a sonic wrinkle here and there; but the song and sound remain reliably the same.
Beginning with a speed-limit-busting instrumental ("Road Zombie"), the band plays their first new card with "California (Hustle & Flow)," adding some soulful backing vocals to the mid-tempo stomp. Elements of glam-punk pop up throughout (which makes sense, since Ness described the album as being influenced by Johnny Thunders), and there's a Skynrd-like Dixie crunch on the epic "Bakersfield"; both are welcome additions to the Social D. sonic palette.
It's always nice to try something new, but we go to Social Distortion to get Neil Young & Crazy Horse on bad-Cali-desert-trucker-speed: three-and-a-half chords and some tear-stained biker poetry rock 'n' roll. And for those purposes, "Sweet And Lowdown" and "Machine Gun Blues," with its amusing lyrical reference to fellow Californians, the Eagles' "Already Gone," both deliver.
Lyrically, Ness is still incredibly adept at weaving compact narratives through his songs, chronicling a "moonlight mishap" where someone's guardian angel lets them down, with the kind of bare-knuckled poetics that has earned his words space tattooed on the forearms of many a fan. They can chase the pain away with this album, a Bud and a shot of Jack.