Sensitive men love to sing the blues. However, they don’t often sing about much else. Mike Ness, the singer and songwriter behind weathered punk trio Social Distortion, always embraced macho endurance on earlier albums. The band’s well-known songs were weepy-eyed from the start, bearing titles such as “Bad Luck” and “Prison Bound.” Over time, though, Ness found happiness and security, which is now reflected in his music. Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll, a new compilation by Social D, boasts the same repetitive punk hymns we’ve grown to love. Only this time, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
The album begins with “Reach For the Sky,” a classic cut in the vein of their earlier work. New guitarist Johnny Wickersham shows off his meaty guitar chops, while Ness makes peace with mortality the only way he can – by “reaching for the sky / for tomorrow may never come.” “Angel’s Wings” retracts the weightiness of his earlier songs, by asking the downtrodden to “hold back their fear.” The standout track on this album, ironically, is the least similar in subject matter. “Highway 101,” a beautiful travel monologue, recalls Kerouac or Ginsberg’s love for road adventure.
Unfortunately, Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll often repeats itself. Social Distortion has gained success with a minimalist ethic, a love for simple guitar-bass-drums arrangements. This makes for a slightly boring listen, as many of the songs just blend together. The bonus track on the CD, an acoustic version of “Angel’s Wings,” tries to mix things up, but too much of the album relies on a tried-and-true format. This can’t destroy the appeal of the band, though. Social Distortion is the working-class brand of punk rock blues as well as the yearning blue eyes behind the angry sneer. You couldn’t drag Mike Ness down, even if you tried. That’s what makes him so damn lovable.
[Matt Cappiello warns, enjoy the drink, but not at work … unless you can get away with it.]