In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “I like all of these sings individually. But ten Social Distortion songs in a row does get a little redundant.”
80s and 90s Californian punk rock fills a fairly large section of musical library. Bands like Bad Religion, The Vandals, NOFX, Guttermouth represented almost all of my listening in the early 2000s, and they still get a regular run today. But it’s a time and region so rife with amazing music, there are bands I’m aware of and like, who I still have never really dedicated much time to their work. Including Social Distortion. Which is why I just listened to their self titled record, Social Distortion.
Punk rock rawness with a big, mainstream metal sound, So Far Away has a super slick, studio sound. But the voice of Mike Ness is too real and gritty for any engineer to ever polish completely. It’s such a great way to open an album, and announce its intentions. They might be punk rockers, but Social Distortion never let that be an excuse for lazy song writing, structure or half assed execution.
One thing I generally love, but can sometimes be a little infuriated by with, is Ness’ obvious appreciation for the sound of his own guitar. Over long, bordering on indulgent intros, where guitars layer upon guitars upon guitars, generally all playing the same riff or progression, before a little lead break caps things off. All before doing it again at least once more in the bridge. It’s the kind of thing that prolongs a cool little song like Let it Be Me to the point of wearing out its welcome. Ness never wrote a guitar part he didn’t think could be repeated and looped forever.
But my entire point is disproven with Story of My Life. Everything negative I said about Let it Be Me is even more egregious here. But Story of My Life is such a perfectly simple rock and roll song, that even at almost six minutes long, I only want more every time I hear it come to an end.
As far as covers go, Social Distortion’s take on the Johnny Cash classic Ring of Fire is fine. It’s just exactly what you’d expect from a rockabilly and country influenced punk band, taking on the Johnny Cash classic Ring of Fire. Similarly, Ball and Chain is a perfectly serviceable song, it’s just a Social Distortion song slowed down a little, with one of the rhythm guitar parts played on an acoustic. That’s about as far as the leg stretching goes.
The second half slump of Social Distortion continues with the pair of She’s a Knockout and A Place in My Heart. They’re so similar, they’re basically one long, kind of boring song, separated by name only. But they’re as unique as snowflakes compared to the derivative Roadhouse Blues aping of Drug Train.
I’ve written before about the barely discernible difference between songs sounding boringly the same, and songs sounding impressively consistent. I still can’t figure out a way to articulate what separates the two, but with Social Distortion, I at least have an example of a record that falls just slightly on the side of boringly the same. I like all of these sings individually. But like Ness’ guitar work, ten Social Distortion songs in a row does get a little redundant.