Orange County Frontman Mike Ness: Still Rocking 30 Years Into the Game

Social Distortion
Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes
Epitaph

Mike Ness of Social Distortion — the Fullerton punk band’s only remaining original member — has spent the last 30 years raging against the powers that be. Now the dude’s 48, you might think he and his band are too old for the mosh pit, but with their seventh album, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, Social D offers an updated take on the band’s trademark blues-punk style.

Social Distortion songs have always been biographical; Ness’s angsty lyrics reflect upon past battles with heroin addiction and the struggles of living on the streets of Hollywood. “From the back to the front page / From the gutter to the stage,” he says of Social D’s legacy on album closer “Still Alive.” The track’s a brazen middle finger to anyone who thought Ness and his band were finished. Accompanied by punk guitar and soft piano, his vocals are at their gruff, emotional finest.

But Ness isn’t afraid to experiment lyrically, playing someone other than himself — a Bonnie and Clyde-style gangster on “Machine Gun Blues.” Though the lyrics are pretty straightforward (“I left your town, took all your loot / Bought a pink carnation and a pinstripe suit”), upbeat, harmonious rhythms — not to mention all the fun Ness has playing a badass — compensate for any lackluster rhymes.

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes is more polished than the band’s previous works (probably due to the amount of time spent in the studio — work on the album began in 2005). But while there isn’t a lot of mosh-pit material on Hard Times, Ness proves that even with teenage kids and grown-ass problems, Social Distortion haven’t lost all their edge. (7/10)