The first seven and a half minutes of Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes not only kick serious sonic butt but also remind you why Social Distortion has lasted over three decades.  After the crunchy instrumental “Road Zombie,” the band segues into “California (Hustle and Flow)” with a gritty, enticing Mike Ness lead vocal, great interplay between Mr. Ness and Jonny Wickersham, and a solid rhythm section offering from Brent Harding and John Freese.  It’s old-school rock ‘n’ roll played by guys who are clearly having fun.  Who cares that the lyrics offer nothing beyond cliches? 

Well, I start to care when every other song on the album sounds exactly alike, with the same fingerings, the same arrangements, the same shouted, hackneyed vocalizing and themes.  Mr. Ness apparently thinks that every single statement he ever saw more than once in required high school lit and old CCR and Springsteen lyric sheets is worthy of lengthy musical exploration and declamation.  What a revelation it is that we can’t take it with us when we go!  And that people in rowdy and/or passionate moods can feel like machine guns!  And that we’re still alive and well after so much hard living!  And that all of these sentiments are expressed over the exact same tempo for almost fifty minutes, or at least it sure feels that way!

There is nothing on this album comparable to “Bad Luck” and other great SD tracks from their heyday…though considering this is the most successful album of their career so far (WHY?) this might technically qualify as their heyday, which is pretty sad.