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Album review: Social Distortion's 'Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes'

January 18, 2011 |  8:02 am

Social_distortion_240_ “Life gets hard and then it gets good, like I always knew it would,” Mike Ness declares on Social Distortion’s new album. Old-school fans of this long-running Orange County punk band might have trouble accepting the latter half of that couplet, given the terminally down-and-out vibe of early Social D records such as “Mommy’s Little Monster.” (Sample lyric from that 1983 debut: “One more trip like that will put me in the morgue.”)

Nevertheless, “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes” does indeed exude an essential optimism that feels no less believable than any of Ness’ tales from the dark side. Like his new labelmates in Bad Religion, the frontman values punk’s durability over its aggression or its (bad) attitude, which is why he piles on the Black Crowes-style classic-rock signifiers in “California (Hustle and Flow)” and breaks from autobiographical protocol in “Machine Gun Blues,” about an early-’30s gangster on a bloody interstate crime spree.

He even taps a disarmingly tender vein for the plaintive “Writing on the Wall,” in which he ruminates on the complexity of his relationship with his teenage son. You can tell Ness is still getting comfortable revealing that side of his artistic persona; most of the song’s words are self-help boilerplate meant to keep you on the surface of his thoughts. But the music provides a way in.

—Mikael Wood

Social Distortion
“Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes”
Three stars (Out of four)