Prolific is not a word one would apply to Southern California punk outfit Social Distortion. Dedicated, maybe. Resourceful. Reliable. But not prolific. It's been seven years since the band's last record, Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll, which came eight years after 1996's White Light, White Heat, White Trash, which came four years after Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell. Social Distortion has released seven records since forming long ago in 1978 — a year unbeknownst to many of its modern-day teenage fans.
And context gets more than a bit confused when it comes to addressing a new Social D offering. Who could rightly expect Hard Times to sound anything like its distant predecessors, especially as frontman and songwriter Mike Ness eases into middle-age (he's two months from fifty) and his bandmates keep changing every few years? More to the point, who would want it to?
Ness, for one. Hard Times does nothing you haven't heard Social Distortion do before — except maybe those soulful female backing vocals. It still blends punk with country and western, still dwells on hard-luck themes, still loves cars and guts and grit. Ness still pours his full force and ample attitude into his vocals, and his high-gain electric guitar still churns out hard-driving power chords. His songwriting, inimitable after all these decades, is still alternately working-class and transcendent; a few of the new songs, like "Bakersfield" and the apropos "Still Alive," rank among his best. Somehow, Social D is still Social D. For now, that's good enough. In another seven years, will it still be so? (Epitaph)