SOCIAL DISTORTION – WHITE LIGHT WHITE HEAT WHITE TRASH (Epic/Sony)
Social Distortion is one of a handful of acts left from the early 80s Southern California punk scene. Formed in 1978, the group originally garnered notice for combining the more obvious British punk roots with hints of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, resulting in a melodic sensibility far beyond that of it’s competition. Early album titles Mommy’s Little Monster and Prison Bound reflected leader Mike Ness’ nihilistic perspective.
That stance has evolved to a point where today the anger is no longer directed outward. Songs like I Was Wrong and Gotta Know The Rules depict the realization that the world view once espoused was naive, and impossible to live by. The transition is easier said than done. The fatalistic stance is gone, but at a price. Ness has spoken of the private hell his journey took him through, including a serious heroin addiction and the deaths of close friends and family members. The sense of regret permeates this album. I Was Wrong takes a lifetime to write.
While the band has matured, they’re not yet ready to slow down. Opening with Dear Lover, twin guitars blast forth with a power and passion that immediately removes any doubt whether Ness and company have mellowed. Posing the question “why does love always have to hurt,?” the song works whether the lover in question is human or habit.
The crux of White Light… is summed up in Through These Eyes: “Through these eyes I’ve looked the Devil in the face/And I’ve seen God’s holy grace/ Through these eyes I’ve tried to walk the straight line/I found myself again, but nearly lost my mind.” The prevalence of religious iconography in When the Angels Sing and Crown of Thorns are an essential part of the equation. Ness has spoken of recent spiritual rebirth following the death of his grandmother, but has intentionally been vague with the press.
Bigger and tighter than ever before, this is Social Distortion’s finest record to date. Honest and uncompromising, White Light… puts the vast majority of alternative acts, secular and CCM, to shame.
© John Cody 1997