Social Distortion - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes Review
Posted by John Downey on 01.19.2011
The legendary punk act returns with their first album in seven years. Was it worth the wait?
1.) "Road Zombie"
2.) "California (Hustle and Flow)"
3.) "Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown"
4.) "Diamond in the Rough"
5.) "Machine Gun Blues"
7.) "Far Side of Nowhere"
8.) "Alone and Forsaken"
9.) "Writing on the Wall"
10.) "Can't Take It With You"
11.) "Still Alive"
The other day, I had on a piece of music that I needed to review from a long-running band that had decided to change up their sound. The album, to be brief, was excellent--an amalgamation of the band's best qualities blended with current music trends. I was midway through my review when I realized that I was reviewing the wrong album, and that Social Distortion's "Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes", their seventh proper album and their first in seven years, was next on my queue. Like the unnamed band above (you'll have to wait for that review), Social Distortion promised a sound both old and new--specifically, a mix of early-80's punk and folk. Those are lies, damned lies--it is a mashup of rock acts all rolled into one, without anything original brought to the table.
It's incredibly odd to see Social Distortion make music this generic. They weren't the greatest punk act in their prime (or primes, depending on how you regard them), but you could at least count on something relatable and fresh, if not outright inspiring from time to time. The band has been around for over thirty years now, so it would stand to reason that this could have been their true magnum opus, in which they bring together everything they have learned about music and created the perfect punk album.
Which is really the first problem--this isn't a punk album. I understand that the word "punk" can stand for a whole lot of different meanings, but trust me when I say that nothing on "Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes" qualifies as punk. The best way to describe the album is half-rock, half-country. This wouldn't be a problem if anything here sounded in the least bit interesting, which it doesn't.
Opener "Road Zombie" starts things off in an interesting fashion, being an instrumental and all, but that's about as deep as this album gets. "California (Hustle and Flow)", despite what the title implies, is a painfully generic country tune--I expected them to start talking about going to honky tonks. The last minute of the song changes things up by speeding things up, but not too much--just enough to almost be noteworthy. "Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown" sounds like something that Hold Steady would have written on an off day. "Diamond in the Rough" sounds halfway towards a good Drive-By Truckers song, and I do mean halfway. "Machine Gun Blues" is one of the best songs on the album, and even then sounds like a mash between a younger version of Social Distortion and Green Day at their most pretentious.
"Bakersfield" tops six minutes despite running out of ideas in the first forty seconds. It is a slow jam, and a brutally generic one at that. The writing is just as generic as the rest of the album, just spread out over six minutes. Some of Social Distortion's better songs, like "Story Of My Life" and "Ball and Chain", include some longer tunes, but those tunes had ideas and momentum, and "Bakersfield" has neither.
The album's second half keeps the generic streak going. "Far Side of Nowhere" sounds like something that Hold Steady would have written on an off day (could've sworn I had already written that). Whoever made the decision to sequence "Writing On The Wall" and "Can't Take It With You", two songs of almost equal length and level of fluff, needs to get fired. "Still Alive" sounds like the most boring song that Good Charlotte never got around to writing. Only their cover of Hank Williams' "Alone and Forsaken" is worth a damn, but when the best song on your album is a cover song, you know you've got issues.
The best word to describe this album is "generic" (in case you couldn't tell). There is nothing hear you haven't heard before, and a lot you've heard done better elsewhere. It certainly doesn't sound anything close to the sound that the band was advertising, but even adjusting the expectations, there is no reason for you to buy this album. Throw some tape hiss into the mix and you'd think that this was made by high school kids. True story: I put this album on and then asked my brother, who knows more about punk than anyone I've met, to name the band. His first guess was Hold Steady. His second guess was "some generic band out there--too many to pick."
The 411: It's not actively bad, which is the only thing saving this mess from getting a lower score. This doesn't feel like a Social Distortion album--it feels like Walmart-brand contemporary rock, and is just as disposable. Even if you are a hardcore fan of the band, save your money and buy a concert ticket instead.