October 01, 2004


Social Distortion.jpg

Spirited songs about life's hard lessons

Since founding Social Distortion in the late 1970s, singer-songwriter-guitarist Mike Ness has treated his audiences to authentic tales of hard living and even harder luck.

Even by those standards, tragedy hit too close to home four years ago with the sudden death of Dennis Danell, Ness' dear friend and longtime lead guitarist, from an apparent brain aneurysm.

Ness is soldiering on with yet another shuffle of the Social D lineup and the band's first studio album in eight years, Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll (Time Bomb Recordings). It is a trip through familiar themes -- love, disillusionment, and, now more than ever, death and its aftermath.

But it is hardly a grief-filled journey. Instead, it is a surprisingly spirited set of songs that find Ness speaking from his best vantage point: when his tattooed torso bears fresh scars from learning life's lessons the hard way.

To that end, the album's message largely seems to be equal parts carpe diem and a rip-roaring middle finger directed at death. Sounding ever the snarling punk at 42, Ness leads his crew (featuring new guitarist Johnny "2 Bags" Wickersham, journeyman drummer Charlie Quintana and recently departed bassist John Maurer) on some trademark guttural, fist-pumping anthems, such as the defiant "I Wasn't Born to Follow” and the oh-so-vivid sketch of a slacker, "Nickels and Dimes."

There's even a rarity for the Social D catalog -- a sunny outlook on life, as the hook-happy "Highway 101" sees Ness content just to be cruising the California coast, proclaiming, "I believe in love now."

The rest of the record is dotted with tracks that find Ness either dealing with Danell's passing or coming to grips with the concept that he'll be leaving this world someday, too. There's the feverish "Don't Take Me for Granted" and the disc's opening track, "Reach for the Sky," in which Ness sings of a scenario where you "hope it's not too late, 'cause tomorrow may never come." More affecting is the moving album closer, "Angel's Wings," his uneasy resignation to mortality. "How many times have you asked yourself/Is this a hand of fate now that I've been dealt?" Ness sings, before the album's fitting final refrain: "Angel's wings gonna carry us away."

Until that day comes for Ness, it would seem Social Distortion, in whatever form, will have plenty of life left in it.

-- By George Henn

Posted by medleyville at October 1, 2004 08:27 PM