"Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll"
By one measure, Social Distortion's journey has been a simple one. The band began as an early exponent of Southern California hardcore, then strayed toward country and rockabilly, only to turn most of the way back to its original sound. The band's solid new "Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll" has its rootsy aspects, but the major precedents to which singer-guitarist Mike Ness stays true are his own. Although his band is now 26 years old, Ness convincingly delivers the bristling adolescent sentiments of such songs as "I Wasn't Born to Follow" (not the Goffin-King number) and "Don't Take Me for Granted."
Behind the music, Social Distortion's career has been more complicated, with prolonged layoffs, drug problems and the death of a longtime member. Amid the commotion, the quartet has managed to record only six studio albums.
Perhaps this scant output is why Ness still sounds driven -- or maybe it's because he really is. When the breakneck but tuneful "Reach for the Sky" counsels that "tomorrow may never come," Ness sings the line as if he has ample reason to believe it.
The members of the Explosion represent a younger generation of punks, but their disposition is nothing new. (Indeed, the band has chosen a name that would fit any hardcore outfit.) The 12 songs on the Boston quintet's second longplayer, "Black Tape," are urgent if unsurprising packets of outrage, exhortation and rapid-fire melody. Such tunes as "Filthy Insane" and "No Revolution" proffer a no-future worldview, but the Explosion also has its uplifting side. "Deliver Us" and "Here I Am" exhibit an epic quality that recalls the big-country sweep of '80s Celtic-rock; the latter tune even places singer Matt Hock "on top of the mountain again." While much of this album seethes, such moments suggest that Hock and his cohorts are more likely than irascible old-timer Mike Ness to mellow with age.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Monday at Nation with Tiger Army. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Social Distortion, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8106; to hear the Explosion; press 8107. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)