Social Distortion has always been lumped in with the punk scene, for reasons that aren’t quite understandable. There has always been a bit of angst (see the band’s 1990 classic, “Story of My Life”) and vocalist/guitarist Mike Ness has plenty of tattoos, but Social D has always been a fairly straightforward rock ‘n’ roll band, and it shows on “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.”
The group wears its classic influence prominently, especially on the opening trio of songs, instrumental “Road Zombie,” “California (Hustle and Flow)” and “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown.” The riffs sound straight out of an early Aerosmith release. Add in a chorus of gospel-style background singers on “California” and “Can’t Take It With You,” and the classic rock train is rolling.
The downside is that a healthy portion of the album sounds old already (and there’s a difference between “classic” and “old”). In “California,” Ness sings how “the black man taught me how to sing the blues” (a common theme) and in “Can’t Take It With You,” Ness decries a tight-fisted individual (an even more common theme).
“Machine Gun Blues” is a mobster tune, but it sounds tired in comparison to Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy” (and its more hardcore Metallica cover).
Although the lyrical content of “Hard Times” isn’t its strong suit, the songs are still easy to enjoy.
Ness takes a trip down a country road by covering Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken” to good effect. He walks a little too far down the road when the band plays “Writing on the Wall,” which sounds like a bad attempt at a modern country release. It didn’t work for Aaron Lewis (of Staind) and Social Distortion shouldn’t try it either.
Social Distortion doesn’t break any ground on its new album, but it’s far from washed up. Listeners will have to take what they can get.