“Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Social Distortion

Slrr_cover"Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll" — Social Distortion’s first studio album in eight years  — is rife with lyrical platitudes and musical clichés. I love it.

It helps that I’m a sucker for crunchy, fast guitar playing and gravel-voiced vocalists. Social D has long occupied this pure almost iconic space where punk, rockabilly and classic rock meet (a sort of punkier version of the Replacements, less bluesy version of the Rolling Stones), and although some find that space derivative, it totally works for me.

"Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll," covers the same ground that vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Mike Ness has been focused on since giving up drugs in the late ’80s. The songs are a bit preachy and focus on grabbing the good moments when you can, finding and holding on to love, not selling out to suburban dreams and the corporate world. The band’s origins are the Orange Country punk scene, home to what the Social Distortion Web site calls that "immovable cultural object: the Orange County dream of quiet, well-oriented, economically impregnable suburban living."

And although Ness may have given up the drugs in the holy trinity of the rock lifestyle — thus the album title — what he’s replaced it with is a firm belief in a marrying a good women and if not settling down at least settling in.

A case in point is "Reach for the Sky" — the first track (and single) from the album. It’s your typical memento mori/carpe diem message wrapped up in a tight three-and-a-half minutes of fast, uncomplicated guitar chords and verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. The one line (sung twice) chorus of "Reach for the sky ’cause tomorrow may never come" may not express the message with the same subtlety and wit as John Donne’s "The Flea," but it’s just as catchy.

The rest of the album is more of the same. Standout tracks include:

"Highway 101," a paean to California sun, cruising and true love.

"Nickels and Dimes," a catalog of skeezy hustlers who let the world pass them by because they’re busy chasing a quick buck.

And my two favorites:

"Faithless," a track that’s a little more languor-ess and bluesy than the standard Social D song. It also is a good example of why despite my tossing around of words such a "platitude" and "cliché," I like Ness’s songwriting. He refuses to go the (in some ways cop-out) indie band route of difficult, opaque lyrics. He’s a populist writer in the best sense of the word.

For example, here’s the second verse and chorus (which builds rather cleverly each time it is repeated):

He’s gonna get his girlfriend’s name tattooed on his neck
And hope he never, never lives to regret
He’s gonna walk down that long dark alley
And what he finds there you know he’ll never forget

Don’t let your walls down
You might fall in love, you might fall in love
They’re crashing down now, you might fall in love

Or to steal from Social D again. Even though I first laughed when I read on their Web site that after becoming sober, "Ness turned Social Distortion’s albums into an ongoing dialogue about impulsiveness, it’s consequences and the hard struggle for maturity." It’s true, and I think it explains, in part, the appeal of the band’s music to someone like me who has never lived a "punk" lifestyle. This is punk for grown ups. Yes, it’s still a little adolescent, it’s still rock ‘n’ roll, and I’d probably laugh at the same sentiments in a different package, but there’s something about the form plus the message that totally works.

Finally, I don’t have much to say about the final track "Angel Wings"  — my favorite — except that it’s the closest thing to a punk hymn you’ll probably ever hear. I leave you with its closing lines:

I triumphed in the face of adversity
And I became the man I never thought I’d be
And now my biggest challenge, a thing called love
I guess it’s not as tough as I thought I was

I don’t care what they say
I’m gonna marry you some day
Go ahead and wake up, it’s a brand new day
Angels’ wings gonna carry you away
Angels’ wings gonna carry you away
Angels’ wings gonna carry you away

You can listen to both "Reach for the Sky" and "Nickels and Dimes" as well as tracks from other albums (check out the great cover of Johnny Cash’s "Ring of Fire") on Social D’s Web site.

NOTE: Social D will play Salt Lake City on Feb. 10, 2005. See the site linked to above for details.

Addendum: I should add, in true Mike Ness fashion, that I have to acknowledge that we own this album because my wife requested it for her birthday and that our one-year-old daughter Ruby likes it too.

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3 thoughts on ““Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Social Distortion

  1. Thanks for the review and the link. I haven’t heard any Social D since the early 90’s (?) when I got hooked on their alt-rock single, “Ball and Chain.” I loved their “Ring of Fire” (written by June Carter, I believe) and I’ll have to check out the other stuff there.

    For another web site with shouter vocals and thrashing guitars, check out http://www.offspring.com. I was never deep into their stuff, but I also got hooked on their alt-rock singles “Self Esteem” (from Smash) and “Gone Away” (from Ixnay on the Hombre). As for the latter, man, talk about thrashing guitars…

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