Thursday, October 9, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Social Distortion "Mommy's Little Monster" (1983)

Every record collector has his stories of great finds and amazing deals, and I'm no different.  Among my crate-digging stories is the day I scored an unopened second-pressing copy of Social Distortion's outstanding 1983 debut album, Mommy's Little Monster, from the swiftly thinning vinyl racks of a mall chain record shop that was making the conversion to CD and cassette only and therefore dumping their vinyl stock for cheap.  Total out-of-pocket cost including tax: $2.12.  That, my friends, is a bargain.

Mommy's Little Monster captures Social Distortion immediately after their 1982 US tour with Youth Brigade chronicled in the excellent documentary Another State Of Mind.  In the interim they had disbanded, but the film got enough interest going in the band again that they reformed and slashed out the album in a single day.  Instead of making everything sound like a rushed job, the extremely short process imbues the album with a consistent sense of immediacy, urgency and energy that reflected the band at that point in time very well.

This isn't the Social Distortion that would evolve in later years, after Mike Ness became a hardened, jaded, modern day version of Johnny Cash.  Here Ness and company are simply punk kids with an obvious appreciation for a well-placed hook and the yet-untarnished spark of enthusiasm that kicked an entire music scene into gear once upon a time.  In nine short but memorable bursts of West Coast punk, Social Distortion created a classic album.

From the dizzying opening riffs of "The Creeps (I Just Wanna Give You)" to the ever-shifting tempo of the album's closer, "Moral Threat," the three A's of the genre (alienation, angst and anger) are consistent themes. Solid playing and some surprising twists keep this from being just another by-the-numbers punk rock record, however: the song which lent its title to the previously mentioned documentary, "Another State Of Mind," briefly drops the dangerous punk swagger for a surprisingly uncertain bit of reflection over life on the road; echoes of the sort of American roots rock that would become a hallmark of Ness's later music are already reverberating under the surface on more than a few tracks here.

The centerpiece, naturally, is the title track.  "Mommy's Little Monster" paints two caricatures of go-nowhere punk kids, one male and one female, as society-rejecting, self-destructive wastes -- at least in the (socially distorted?) view of their parents -- and leaves their tales unresolved and without value judgment.  Are they really so bad for having chosen a path away from the conformist norm? ("His brothers and sisters have tasted sweet success/His parents condemn him, say his life's a mess"  and "Her eyes are a deeper blue/She likes her hair that color too...") Maybe, as another Cali band would suggest a few years later, all they wanted was a Pepsi.

Mommy's Little Monster has been reissued several times over the years on a number of different labels, so it's not difficult to find.  If you don't have this one, you should.