Review Summary: A quintessential 90s punk listen.
Punk has always been a genre that I can relate to often. Whether it be the rebellious, anti-authority and anti-conformity pathos of the insubordinate or the common themes of being different from societal norms, punk has always appealed to me not only because of its lyrical themes, but also because of its talented instrumentation and adrenalizing spirit. The 90s were an important decade for the genre – although the 80s were dominated by the hardcore scene, punk reached its commercial peak thanks to the platinum-selling albums Dookie
, bringing artists like The Offspring and Green Day into the mainstream.
But before all of that happened, there was Social Distortion
Although the influential punk act formed in 1978, they brought their unique amalgamation of punk, blues, rockabilly and country to the forefront with their landmark third album, a self-titled release that will surely go down in history as one of the greatest punk records ever. Fronted by charismatic vocalist Mike Ness, Social Distortion
combined their lyrical themes of despair, longing, drug addiction and crime with memorable riffs and distinct use of instruments such as the harmonica. Although the band’s roots were in hardcore, the release of their 1990 effort perfectly showcased their change in sound as they added in more influences from other genres, including blues and rockabilly, which are a prevalent part of the album’s instrumental core.
From the opening riffs of “So Far Away”, it’s clear that Social Distortion
is an album that focuses mainly on rocking out. Whether it’s the anthemic chant of the title or the snide, desperate cries of “I’ve sung the blues, for every brokenhearted lovesick dream for you”, the track shows Social Distortion’s talents in songwriting, instrumental skills and relatable lyrics. The album’s first six songs are all undeniably flawless, each one containing the classic Social D spark that they had in their prime. Lead single “Let It Be Me” continues the trend of upbeat tempos combined with melancholic lyrics, as Ness ponders the quality of his relationship and how others perceive his role in it. Although the blues influences are toned down a bit, the guitar solo midway through drops all pretense of rockabilly and just lets it loose.
is an album that is greatly boosted by its lyrics, which make the album a lot more timeless and extraordinary than it already is. Mike Ness’ life wasn’t exactly the best – he fell into drug addiction, was kicked out of his house at age 15, and lived through poverty and struggle. Although the 90s would soon become a decade of rehabilitation for the troubled singer, the feelings of hopelessness and melancholy had already tapped into his mindset. Lyrics like “Good times come and good times go, I only wish the good times would last a little longer” on “Story of My Life” deal with the end of carefree adolescence and the beginning of the whirlwind of hell known as adulthood, something that resonated through the hearts of many. While “Sick Boys” and “It Coulda Been Me” offer a more introspective look into the crime scene of California and its affect on innocent youth, it’s the angsty, self-loathing emotions that struck a chord with thousands of punks across the nation, who perfectly understood every word that came out of Ness’ mouth.
The best track on Social Distortion
is the one that perfectly sums up the album in one song, showing off the best of Ness’ lyrics, vocals and riffs. Clocking in at nearly six minutes long, “Ball and Chain” is one of the longest songs on the record, and every second of it is pure beauty. Mike Ness gives a very emotional vocal performance as he details his struggle with depression and self-hatred. It’s pretty obvious that the song was written from a place of great pain and resentment, and I’ll be damned if Ness doesn’t flawless encapsulate those feelings and emotions. It’s the little things, like the harmonies in the chorus and minute-long instrumental outro that make it so perfect. Although the line “never to return again” may suggest an underlying theme of suicide, perhaps the best representation of the track’s dark lyrical matter is “I’m born to lose and destined to fail”, which is something that I constantly feel too much.
Although the album’s first six songs are undeniably flawless, the rear portion of Social Distortion
isn’t too shabby either. After all, there’s tracks like “Drug Train”, which features Eric Von Herzen blowing harmonica, giving it a very Western atmosphere, and “She’s a Knockout”, which offers a rare glimpse of optimism as it is about how great this woman is (and not about how desperate Ness feels). The former contains a completely well-thought out metaphor, using a train ride to symbolize the path of death that addiction brings. Despite its heavy blues influence, it comes off as one of the darkest tracks on the album.
Out of all the great records to come out of the 90s punk scene, Social D’s eponymous major label debut may just have been one of the best. Even if it might not have reached the same level of mainstream attention as Smash
, Social Distortion
struck a chord with thousands of angst-ridden teenagers all over the world. With Mike Ness’ powerful vocals, well-used blues and country influences, talented instrumentalists and instantly relatable lyrics, it seemed almost inevitable that the melancholic mindset would catch onto the dissatisfied youth of 1990. The album’s first six tracks has to be one of the most flawless runs in musical history, showing not just the band’s emotional side with “Ball and Chain” and “Story of My Life”, but also their upbeat outlook. Social Distortion brought something truly unique to the punk scene with their mixture of genres, and their influence has been magnificent. Nearly forty years after they formed, the D are still at it, making music for the masses to enjoy. Social Distortion
is a landmark achievement for the genre of punk rock, and it’s a shame it came four years too soon for it to be recognized by the mainstream.
Life goes by so fast
You only want to do what you think is right.
Close your eyes and then it's past.
Story of my life.