Album review for Social Distortion's eponymous album

Album Review: Social Distortion – Self-titled

Second to the greatest band in the universe, Social Distortion made up much of my youthful soundtrack that today still brings back the sights and sounds that were, then, all around me.

Early pioneers of Orange County punk rock, Social Distortion started with a three-song EP before releasing their debut Mommy’s Little Monster, the underappreciated and melancholic Prison Bound followed before hitting it big with the self-titled Social Distortion a becoming of age album, of sorts for singer, songwriter and band co-founder Mike Ness whose early teenage angst was replaced by a more mature man who wrote lyrical memoirs for the career-defining record. (That is a 71 word sentence!)

Arguably, Social Distortion – both band and album – saved Ness’ life. It gave him something to do and the mainstream success put the band on a career long trajectory that remains (sort of) active to this day. A former heroin addict who spent time in jail, Ness kicked the habit in the 80s and while he takes a hyperbolic lifetime to release a new album, Social Distortion routinely sells out moderately-sized venues.

Not many bands have two classic line-ups. Social Distortion does. The current group consisting of Ness, Jonny Wickersham on guitar and bassist Brent Harding. And, the band that gave us Social Distortion – band co-founder and the late Dennis Danell on guitar, John Maurer on bass and drummer Christopher Reece. Of course, regardless of all the players (and this is all my opinion) but Mr. Ness pretty much defines the band. It’s his band but he has found a pretty reliable crew in Two Bags and Harding. I’d be remiss in not including David Hildago Jr. on drums a staple behind the kit since 2010. In short, Social Distortion has the longest running lineup in its storied 45 years.

Though Ness of late dissolves into a babbling mess of incoherent and nonsensical political spew during concerts which sucks the air out of the room like a sidewinder missile pops a Chinese spy balloon, his music still brings me joy. Thus, I returned to Social Distortion’s self-titled album, out 33 years ago today, in its entirety after a number of years and listened again for the first time.

The 10-song, 41 minute self-titled Social Distortion doesn’t charge forth with various tempos, time signature changes or overly complex guitar solos and rapid drums fills. In fact, you just might find Social Distortion the album to sparkle in its not so complex and mostly 4/4 time one-two punch production. Ness orchestrates not only a superb melody from the opening track to the final song but storytelling that evokes nostalgia and remembrance.

Ness weaves fully relatable lyrics throughout the eponymous album sometimes talking about women, fawning about the past, articulating his own mental issues and even recognizing the luck of his own fate.  Generally leaving behind the fast fire pace of punk rock – though you can hear the modulation so prominent on earlier songs when Ness solos – the eponymous Social Distortion album embraces more straight forward rock and roll with a subtle touch of blues and rockabilly, a style taken up by Ness on his future solo albums.

Living vicariously through lyrics may fall on the wayside for some, but the resonating narrative brilliantly outlined on “Story of My Life” rings home for me and no doubt many others. A stellar lament in “Ball and Chain,” a fun rocker in “She’s a Knockout” as well as album opener “So Far Away” and no disrespect to the late great Johnny Cash but I think Social Distortion owns the classic “Ring of Fire.”

Social Distortion’s self-titled album retains an adolescent charm that carries on decades later but also a maturity of late suggesting a lasting influence to putting one’s life into their music.

Grade: A-

Social Distortion Self-titled Album Songs:

  1. So Far Away
  2. Let It Be Me
  3. Story of My Life
  4. Sick Boys
  5. Ring of Fire
  6. Ball and Chain
  7. It Coulda Been Me
  8. She’s a Knockout
  9. A Place in My Heart
  10. Drug Train

8 thoughts on “Album Review: Social Distortion – Self-titled

  1. Rush and Social Distortion you’re 1 and 2. Cool to read that these guys still resonate with you all this years later. Power of Music. Nice job as well as posting quickly after D.M! Keep em coming as I will keep reading em!

    1. these guys are starting their Canada tour just south of Portland in June! could not believe it. I don’t have to go into the crime ridden city. lol. thanks for reading. did you have to click the link to know who #1 is? 😉

      1. I figured It was 99.9% Rush but I did click to confirm as I didn’t want to come across as a know it all if it wasn’t RUSH lol…

  2. I wasn’t sure whether I’m even familiar with Social Distortion – gasp! – but listened to some of this album and do recognize their version of “Ring of Fire, which I’ve heard on alternative radio. That said, they’re pretty good.

    1. how awesome you checked them out. story of my life and ball and chain were staples on KROQ back then if you were in the area.

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