Part two of my weekly quest for new music features a band I’d never listened to, and in fact barely even heard of until a couple of weeks ago. And yet I’ve no idea why, because if they’re not right up my street, they’re at least somewhere in the neighbourhood.
Social Distortion are an American punk band formed in California back in 1978. Since then they’ve had an eventful 30-odd years, featuring drug addiction, prison, a break up and even death (founding member Dennis Danell died from a brain aneurysm in 2000). Somewhere along the way, they’ve even found time to make music, releasing 7 studio albums, the most recent of which (Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes) came out this week. This, along with the band’s ’90s major label releases, is what I’ve been listening to.
My first impression of 1990’s self titled release was that it sounded a lot like Backyard Babies – not surprising, then, that the bands have toured together on several occasions. But everything changed a few tracks in, with Story Of My Life, a song which seemed instantly familiar and I’ve no idea why. Advert? Movie? Google couldn’t help and I’m still none the wiser.
Anyway, Story Of My Life moved the album away from its glam punk opening, into the rockabilly/punk sound which Social D are more renowned for. Instant favourite though, as was their cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. Again, I’m sure this must have been used somewhere but couldn’t find where. Irritating.
Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell (1992) continues along a similar vein – harmonica soaked punk songs about drinking, crime and women – but White Light White Heat White Trash (1996) was a different beast. Its somewhat sinister cover (a menacingly lit ventriliquist’s dummy) seemed perfectly suited to the harder, darker sound of the songs within. The country influence seemed very much toned down, and overall the record didn’t appeal to me as much as the previous two did, although I gather it was popular with punk fans.
Following White Light… Social D seem to have faded from the musical limelight, not helped by the tragic loss of Danell. Their next studio album didn’t appear until 2004, although the band did tour a fair bit during that time, including a 2009 European jaunt with current faves the Gaslight Anthem.
Which more or less brings us up to date, and Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, released just last week. Lead single Machine Gun Blues is what got me interested in the first place, and I’m pleased to say I really enjoyed this album. It takes the rockabilly punk sound I liked from earlier in their career, mixes in some gospel backing vocals and even some Beach Boys-esque harmonies. Highlights for me were California (Hustle and Flow), Machine Gun Blues and Still Alive. At the time of writing, the album is still available to stream here, and I’d definitely recommend giving it a listen.