Releasing an album after a long hiatus can be pretty tricky business for artists. There’s already a certain amount of hype built into anything that anybody has to wait for, and fans and critics are ready to jump in with their two cents on whether it was worth the wait or not. Iconic So-Cal rockers Social Distortion are currently facing that conundrum with the release of Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, their first album in six years.
A mix of blues, alt-country, 70’s new wave punk, and rock and roll, the album is a carefully crafted twist on the band’s old punk rock stronghold. It’s nothing the band hasn’t hinted at before in the past, but there is definitely more exploration in a slowed-down, soulful way.
The album’s opener, the driving, instrumental “Road Zombie”, starts the listener on a familiar path. It’s fast, it’s punk rock, it’s Social Distortion. The road then detours with the Rolling Stones-esque “California (Hustle and Flow)” and a dark cover of Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken”. There are some slower, airier songs here, too, such as “Bakersfield” and “Footprints on My Ceiling” before it heads back into familiar “SxDx” territory with”Writing on the Wall” and the catchy, harmonic closer “Still Alive”, a song that will have you humming to yourself afterward.
The album isn’t perfect, though. Some tracks fall a little flat and are unmemorable, and it can be a tad “Kid Rock” cheesy with the female backing vocals on “California” and “Can’t Take it With You”, but for the most part the songs have a clean tone and sharp songwriting. The guitar solos carry the songs as easily as any of the lyrics do, and Mike Ness’s notably raspier voice rises to the occasion. It’s no wonder that Hard Times is also the first Social Distortion album produced solely by Ness himself.
Ness has been praised by many fans and critics alike for writing personal lyrics that have dealt with his ongoing drug addictions and inner turmoil, so some purists fans may take issue with the album’s lighter lyrical tone. But those are probably the same fans who lament the softer sound and more alt-country leanings. The truth is that people change, and there’s no doubt that Ness has become more mature and settled over the last six years. Yes, it’s a new direction in a way, but it’s by no means a bad one.
So was it worth the wait? My two cents says, yes. With a blend of so many compatible genres and sounds, there’s at least something for everyone here. It might not end up being one of the best albums of 2011, but it’s still worth your time (and it was certainly worth six years to Ness). However, those wanting to decide for themselves can do so now by streaming the album directly from Social Distortion’s website.