Monday, April 14, 2008

Review: Social Distortion - Greatest Hits

Label: Time Bomb Recordings

Released: June 26, 2007

I'm not usually that big on greatest hits collections unless they're from a singles-only pop band where there is no real context on the regular albums anyway. Every now and then though, a collection can tell you something that the individual albums didn't. Such is the case with Social Distortion's Greatest Hits.

Mommy's Little Monster was one of the first punk records I bought and as such will always have a special place in my heart. While it is one of the best albums to come out of the early 80s Orange County punk scene, it is also limited by its young, snotty view of the world. However, when taken into consideration with the later material, the depth of songs like "Another State of Mind" and "It Wasn't a Pretty Picture" (sadly absent from this set) comes into greater focus. It also makes something else clear: Mike Ness is a bit of a punk rock Johnny Cash.

Sure, they cover "Ring of Fire," but that does little other than plant the seed for the comparison. A close look will show the parallels. "Another State of Mind" mirrors the pledge of fidelity despite adversity in "I Walk the Line." Pop culture today glorifies time in prison, yet Social Distortion's "Prison Bound," like Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," tells the other side, the real side, of the story. From early on, Ness had the "Man in Black" mentality. Even when immersed in his own dark side, his lyrics, while desolate, are critical of the world that had gone awry around him and yet they offer a vague hope. The last line of "Mommy's Little Monster" is "Don't take her life away," not "Now her life is over." Over the subsequent years, after Ness had kicked his nasty drug habit, that hope became less vague, striving for a better life in "Ball and Chain" and finding faith in "Bad Luck." That hope is extended to the hereafter in "When the Angels Sing" and a dimension of redemption and reconciliation brings this evolution to fruition on "I Was Wrong."

Like Johnny Cash, this evolution from hell raiser to hope to redemption has a religious quality and in the true spirit of the Man in Black, the joy found in the end is not a shiny, happy joy, but a deeper joy that co-exists with, perhaps even requires, sadness and desperation. It is in context of this Greatest Hits collection that I finally understand why Social Distortion resonated with me 25 years ago and why their music still resonates with me today. The collection may be a few tracks short of perfect, but the lesson isn't about being perfect, just better than the day before and the album certainly accomplishes that.

Satriani: 6/10
Zappa: 6/10
Dylan: 10/10
Aretha: 10/10
Overall: 9/10



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