LIZ VAN PAY

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Album Review – Social Distortion: Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes

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As a band, Social Distortion are immortal. Their career – spanning over twenty years – is one that didn’t come easily, and definitely didn’t continue that way. There have been loves lost, founding members’ deaths (guitarist Dennis Danell passed on from a brain aneurysm in 2000), and other situations that would have killed lesser bands. Although it took six years for the band to come together to create a new album (the last release being 2004’s Sex, Love and Rock ‘n Roll), their fans knew it would be worth every second. 2011’s Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (Epitaph) is worth the wait in every way.

The music of Social Distortion has aged gracefully along with its’ members and grown with the times. Sound-wise, it’s gone from balls-to-the-wall punk rock to a bluesy – almost country – rock sound. That alone would be a death warrant for most bands, but for Social D, it shows that they’re always going to stay true to who they are, and put out the albums they want to.

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes has a little bit of everything. From the fast and loud to the soft and sweet and everything in between, this album is something special that only comes around once in a long while.

If you’ve seen the band live in about the past two years, “Road Zombie” will sound familiar, as it was the instrumental track welcoming them to the stage. “California (Hustle and Flow)” is an anthem to the band’s beginnings and making a life of music while living beneath the bright lights of California skies. The tempo stays pretty slow throughout, but still maintains a positive message, solidified by the lyric “life gets hard, and then it gets good – like I always knew it would”. “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown” is a positive song, but one of warning. Vocalist Mike Ness’ sound throughout is syrupy sweet, though the lyrics are those of regret and an attempt to warn others to not follow a negative path.

In 2011, many of us are preoccupied with stuff. How much money we have in the bank, how much junk we have littering our homes, but one thing is clear: “You Can’t Take It With You”. A fun track with a morbid theme, it serves as a representation of where society stands. Though the guitar sound is rollicking and the tempo is fast, the fact is this: when you’re gone, you’re gone. None of it matters, just live life.

“Diamond in the Rough” is one of two favorites I have on the album, and here’s why. If you have ever fought with feelings of negativity or self-loathing, as everyone has, it is an anthem of positivity and love that can pull any listener from a bad place. It speaks of finding oneself, making mistakes, and finally coming out on top – like a diamond in the rough. The final track on the album, and my second favorite, “Still Alive” can be applied to so many different situations. With the band, it’s a middle finger to those who said they’d never make it, and it serves as life inspiration for any listener. A truly amazing track that’s hard to put words to.

The only true love song on Hard Times, “Bakersfield” explores themes of missing a lover, being far away, and constant feelings of just wanting to be home. For any touring musician, this is an obvious issue. As the song continues, it’s obvious the band are getting closer to home (’18 more hours, girl, and I’ll be home to you’), and as a listener, the band’s homecoming to wives and children can be visualized. While most of the songs on the album are positive, “Alone and Forsaken” is an exception. Ness’ voice changes from the sweetness of earlier tracks into a gravelly, foreboding one, begging to be understood by the man upstairs. A perfect breakup song, themes of being left by a lover are expressed throughout and the lyrics (‘each vow was a plaything that she threw away’) just beg for understanding. Keeping with the theme of a cutting breakup, “Writing on the Wall” is in a perfect spot in the track list. The rough vocal sound has been replaced with honey, as Ness explains in no certain words how he can’t let go. As the song plays out, the lyrics say sweet, but the message is simple – ‘if you love someone, you’ve gotta let them go – and if they return to you, that’s surely how you’ll know.”

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes fits into the band’s discography seamlessly. For years to come, even after Social Distortion hangs it up, one thing is definitely certain: their sound will remain timeless, and their music will remain anthems of not only our generation, but the next.

Favorite Tracks: “Still Alive”, “Diamond in the Rough”

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