Sound — 8
It's their first LP since 2004. It's their first album issued by Epitaph. Though it would be only fitting, it's not the first release by Social Distortion to dig up punk rock roots and spray it all over 40 minutes of material. Having been created in 2006, Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes is almost a legend in itself. The record tore through four different drummers (including Atom Willard) and forced singer/guitarist Mike Ness to toy with different sounds and influences. The voice behind Social Distortion did promise it wouldn't take eight years to be released, but low and behold, the seventh studio album sports a seven-year waistline and if you tear through the restless creativity behind it, it's obvious it was worth it. A short burst of classic alt rock, "Road Zombie" infects as a opener, starting simple, cascading into a vicious melody that would spark chaos in the mind of some and push that "go mosh" button. Fueled by early New York 70s' punk, the disc is capable of being a complete riot but it isn't; Ness and co. are a bit older, wiser and eager to don a blues voice ("California (Hustle And Flow)", "Diamond In The Rough"). The pace isn't frantic, but it's grizzled. The melodies aren't pipe bombs, but they have a razor sharp sweet touch. Look past the aging scars and there's enough evidence of pure chemistry ("Machine Gun Blues") and a taste for experimenting with a rugged rockabilly sound ("Can't Take It With You").
Lyrics — 7
Punk voices are intelligent, sophisticated individuals with the ability to be bold, inspiring and raw without erupting. A rejuvenated spirit, Mike Ness is an example and the lines he preaches on Hard Times stop time, but only for a few seconds. The concept behind the album will strike a chord with listeners, the heartache may do the complete opposite. Not to say a track like "Bakersfield" isn't satisfying to the ear; the since expression tied with each member's input of honesty works. The abundance of youthful angst pushed through a not-so-delicate tone doesn't after a few listens. "She promised to honor, to love and obey," claims Ness on "Alone And Forsaken". "Each vow was a plaything that she threw away". The sappy texture of the frontman's composition is expected from scene acts trying to imposter alternative rock's best, not the latter themselves. Where they slip, Social Distortion regain their balance going the basic route: no vocal experimentation, no obscene battle cries, just ferocity in a classic sense.
Overall Impression — 7
Age can deteriorate many traits and after battling to give a record a voice and two legs, Social Distortion haven't shown any signs of vulnerability. The latest lineup takes their classic sound, douses it in the same image they've been using for years and bruises with blues punk rhythms that are simple and enticing at times. Even without looking at its make-up, Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes satisfies your expectations. It doesn't offer less, sometimes gives you more and exemplifies a strong tie that's represented a name for over thirty years. If the new label isn't a sign, Social Distortion have made their bed, they're just not ready to sleep it in yet.