Mike Ness is not one for change. Since his seminal SoCal punk
band Social Distortion has been putting out records, Ness has
embraced the greaser image full tilt. The biker attitude of the
misguided sick boy — born to lose, destined to fail —
was always intertwined in his simple four-chord progressions. With
his hair slicked back, his leather jackets and his jeans cuffed
over his Dr. Martin shoes, nothing much has really changed. Ness,
those blue Dickies fitting ever so snuggly these days, is still
making damn fine punk rock. Finer than ever, in fact.

Music Reviews
The Loch Ness monster. (Courtesy of Time Bomb)

Ness has gone from writing mediocre, cliché rebel-punk
songs to writing excellent, cliché slices-of-Americana songs
to making exceptional, heartfelt and honest
rock‘n’roll. From Mainliner to Prison Bound to Social
Distortion, Mike Ness’s songwriting had been getting more and
more plaintive, nuanced and effective. Going from thrash to
troubadour, Mike Ness had allowed his boyhood idols, guys like
Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, back in to the music.

His latest reinvention came at the most unlikely period of his
career. After Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell didn’t
produce hit singles, the band was dropped from Epic. When White
Light, White Heat, White Trash was set for release on indie Time
Bomb, expectations were held low. Surely, Social D’s best
days were behind them; the market for over-the-hill greasers was
small and dwindling fast. What fans realized upon said
album’s release is that this over-the-hill greaser had the
perfect perch from which to comment so deeply on the life
he’s lived. White Light’s evocative description of a
man who’s already lived a whole life full of regrets but is
still mired in confusion and despair was Social D’s best work
to date.

Sex, Love and Rock-‘n’-Roll has arrived, eight years
later, showing a man truly ages away from White Light’s bleak
outlook. Song after song displays an optimism never before seen.
From the call to arms of “Reach for the Sky” to the
sentimentality of “Highway 101” and “Nickels and
Dimes,” Ness seems like his dark cloud has passed.
“Don’t Take Me For Granted,” from the point of
view of Ness’s bandmate and lifelong friend Dennis Danell,
who died in 2001, is the highlight of the album. It’s a
pleading track, driven by a pulsating, cleanly distorted guitar and
topped off by a rising melody. Ness has said that it was one of the
easiest songs he’s ever written; surely, it’s also one
of his best. “Footprints On My Ceiling,” another
standout, chugs along subtly, like its floating downstream. After
“I Wasn’t Born to Follow,” the album then stalls
momentarily, until it breaks our heart with the closer,
“Angel’s Wings,” a tearful goodbye that digs
along like it’s in the trenches.

Over the years, Mike Ness has taken his image and refined it
ever so well. As he has aged, he’s managed to position
himself as a street poet; he’s seen it all and he’s
here to tell about it. Still cool as hell, Ness has decided to not
only comment on his life but also reflect on it, and his music can
only benefit from his maturation process.

 

Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

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