On the other, the fact that a 32-year-old band is writing relevant music is kind of amazing and deserves more props than the first line gave it.
I suppose it matters if you’ve heard Social Distortion before: If you’re a fan of their music, “Hard Times” will be nothing but exciting to you. New listeners may not be converted.
After hard-charging instrumental opener “Road Zombie,” Social Distortion launches into “California (Hustle and Flow),” which is straight-up, vintage/timeless, snotty SoCal punk. It could have appeared in 1993 and no one would have blinked. The vocal sneer, the guitar work, the mood; they’re all perfect.
“Gimme the Sweet Lowdown” throws down the best melody of the set; all the modifiers from the previous two sentences apply here, too. The gospel-tinged, hard-luck, slow-burner “Bakersfield” is driven as much by piano and organ as guitar, and those instrumental choices are two of the few nods to the ‘00s contained here.
The rest of the tunes are par for the course. If you like SoCal, you’ll dig it. If not, you won’t.
It’s worth noting that Mike Ness’ voice doesn’t show any signs of having broken down (at least on this recording). The sneer’s tone is still perfectly matched to the music, and that’s what sells this album. If people are swayed to liking Social Distortion for the first time, it will be on the strength of his still-excellent vocals.
Rare is the band that can put out relevant music after three decades in the same genre in which it started. Social Distortion is one of them, and that’s awesome. “Gimme the Sweet Lowdown” is worth anyone’s time, regardless of listener age; can we say that about anything on The Go-Gos’ latest? —Stephen Carradini