Five years ago Social Distortion joined the Ramones at the old Bronco Bowl for one of rock's dream double bills--the kind that we don't get in Dallas that often. The two bands made three simple chords sound like heaven and created one of those nights where the music was so perfect in its gritty magnificence that nothing else mattered. Words like "punk" were inconsequential that evening as guitar, bass, and drums brought the chills that great music should, and everyone left sweaty and grinning.
Five years later--which is 35 dog years and a century in rock 'n' roll--the SoCal band is back with its most heartfelt album yet. At a time when punk rock is whored out by the likes of Green Day and MTV, Social Distortion's new album, White Light White Heat White Trash, comes like a loyal friend from the past to invite you out for some primordial thrills. Social D's full-throated fury and emotional outpourings remain intact; the same three chords hit with such passionate intensity that you'd think the lives of the players depended on it. There is enough pathos in the melodies to melt the resistance of the most skeptical, and the band reaches emotional lows that many bands wouldn't--wouldn't want to--touch. While most of his fellow punkers try to outpunk each other with more speed and obnoxious behavior while hiding their soullessness behind guitar machismo, singer-guitarist Mike Ness has been around the punk block enough times to know better. His songs come from the gut, and in White Light most are written from painful personal experiences.
Here Ness wears his tattered heart on his tattooed sleeve. The album is a collection of redemption songs that are brutally sincere--"I Was Wrong," "Untitled," "Crown of Thorns"--and hit home with bruised knuckles. Most of them have the immediacy and bluesiness of Hank Williams--Sr., that is--as Ness sings about his travels down rock's lost highway with a voice so grainy you can almost taste the blood mixed with the phlegm. A man who has drowned in love's often-treacherous waters, Ness won't hesitate to dive in again as long as he's alive and screaming and growling about his pain not to win your sympathy, but because these are the hard facts of life. At the end, in a raging rendition of the Stones' "Under My Thumb," he replaces the playfulness of the original with the threat of nasty revenge. At 34 Ness is not ashamed to tell you that he cries for love or that he screwed up and is willing to accept the punishment, and that's what separates the (punk) men from the boys.
Social Distortion plays Deep Ellum Live Thursday, November 21.