Sunday, April 6, 2008

Social Distortion - "Prison Bound" CD and "Greatest Hits" CD

Mike Ness's Social Distortion were one of the coolest bands around when I was a teen. 'Another State Of Mind' (the album and tour documentary) was nothing short of a revelation, and Social Distortion's snotty, bratty, teen-angst anthems were catchy and nihilistic, echoing the overall feeling of suburban paranoia and alienation, but always with a sort of sad and romantic angle underneath the mohawks, spikes and spurs. 'Prison Bound' was sort of Ness' comeback LP from 1988, and this release alienated some of their hardcore audience as I remember. Here is where Ness first demonstrated some of his primary inspirations. Cuts like 'Like An Outlaw (For You)' were Johnny Cash western tales set to a West Coast punk-rock backbeat. Social Distortion would later synthesize these rockabilly and country roots much more effectively in the coming years, but 'Prison Bound' remains a kind of clumsy and weak offering in the group's usually strong catalog. The songs aren't nearly as memorable or catchy, and the production seems lightweight and kinda tinny & dated. This is one for completists only. (Restless Records, recently reissued on Time Bomb)

On the other hand, Social Distortion's 2007 collection, titled simply 'Greatest Hits', is a powerful punch all the way through. Though it's rather short at only 11 songs, you get some of the best tracks ever written by Mike Ness though the years, arranged chronologically from his kinda juvenile (but still tuneful and melodically strong) beginnings ('Mommy's Little Monster' ) to the 90's major label 'hits' ('Story Of My Life', 'Bad Luck', etc.), and a new song to boot. 'Greatest Hits' touches on all periods of this wonderful band's history. Ness' tales of down-and-out losers and streetwise dreamers are poignant and effective, and his band rocks with guts and balls, combining classic western vibes and structures with edgy post-punk aggression and volume. Ness is truly a rocker with heart and spirit - both traits lacking in 99% of the 'rock' bands out there today. He's an icon and a legend, and this disc proves that after 25 years in music, Social Distortion remains as relevant and listenable today as it did yesterday. Incredible and essential. (Time Bomb)

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