Social Distortion -- Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll

When Social Distortion released White Light, White Heat, White Trash in 1996, I had a hard time imagining a follow-up album that wouldn't be disappointing. I mean, that was one hell of a record. In retrospect, it seems Social Distortion had just as much trouble figuring out what sort of album could live up to the ridiculously high standard they set with WLWHWT, waiting a full eight years before releasing Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll in 2004. Ultimately, Mike Ness and crew produced an entirely worthy successor to their mid-nineties masterpiece.
Stylistically, Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll resembles White Light, White Heat, White Trash in its polished, extremely radio-friendly sound. While the rockabilly and country/western elements so prevalent on their albums after Mommy's Little Monster (1983) remain central to the band's style, Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll, like its predecessor, is a straight-forward punk rock record with cowpunk undertones (rather than a cowpunk record with punk undertones), and a masterful one at that.

As usual, Mike Ness's plaintive vocals deliver the band's trademark themes of regret and longing in the sad, almost wistful sing-along style he's perfected over the past thirty years.

Highlights: The difficulty in selecting stand-out tracks on an album like Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll is in the elimination. For a record as consistently solid as this, it almost sounds like a greatest hits album...

Track 1.
"Reach for the Sky." The album's lone charting single remains one of the band's most representative songs. Lyrically, the song mourns a life in shambles while expressing a melancholy fear that the future "may never come," leaving the singer to embrace his present circumstances, diminished as they may be. Musically, the track balances the band's roots rock sensibility with their punk influences as perfectly as any song in Social D.'s discography.

Track 2. "Highway 101." In this bluesy tune, a wounded, hardened heart accepts love again-- along the California coast.

Track 4. "Footprints on the Ceiling." One of the album's more overtly country-influenced songs, "Footprints" is beautiful dirge for lost love.

Track 7. "Winners and Losers." Ah, sweet, sweet regret.

Track 10. "Angel's Wings." Co-written with Jonny Wickersham, "Angel's Wings" includes some of Ness's most upbeat lyrics. A sublime love song without sappy sentimentality, this track celebrates the rare variety of love that emerges midlife, after wrinkles appear and mistakes have been made. A tough guy ballad no tough guy would be ashamed to play.

This is the sort of record to play at, like, three in the morning when you're having one of those strangely profound conversations that come from nowhere but change your life irrevocably for the better.

Sobriquet Grade: 95 (A).


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