So when I told my friend the mighty Malderor that I thought the new Social Distortion record wasn’t that great, he replied. “True, but it’s a pretty good John Cougar Melencamp record!” Funny, but also kinda true. Social Distortion is one of those bands that is really near to my heart. I had the pleasure of opening up for Social D (as we called them back then) five times in the 80′s and although Mike Ness (who is Social Distortion) only completed three out of the five shows, (substance issues) they were all memorable experiences.
I keep my expectations manageable when it comes to bands or musicians that I love when they have been around for over 20 years so as not to get let down when they change or run out of steam. Hard Times is not a bad record, it’s just not really a Social D record. It has elements of Social D on tracks like Road Zombie (great instrumental), Gimme The Sweet And Lowdown, Machine Gun Blues, and Still Alive.
Overall, between the soft production and the lack of any real angst that has become synonyms with Social D, this record is just forgettable and flat. The best song in the John Cougar vein is Far Side Of Nowhere which is sunny little pop rock number that I can easily enjoy but again, this kind of music doesn’t really add up that well with Mike Ness’s vocals. In that same deal you’ve got Hustle And Flow and Can’t Take It With You that favor gospel type boogie woogie female background vocals; which although fun, again, don’t really fit with Social D.
Since Social Distortion is really Mike Ness he can do whatever he wants. That being said, he should have called this a solo record so we wouldn’t have to compare it with previous and much, much stronger releases. If there is one bright spot it would be Still Alive which is a rockin, uplifting testament to a tough S. O. B. with a pretty little piano piece at the end to send him off into the sunset. I’m glad Mike Ness survived the 80′s and 90′s because I know he almost didn’t and I, like many, appreciate his musical contributions. But at the end of the day, Social Distortion is a brand and this record falls way short of the mark. I will always support this band and I’m sure they are still great live. I wish I had better news; maybe next time.
2.5 (out of 5)