Eight years separated the release of Social Distortion's misguided White Light, White Heat, White Trash and their next studio album, 2004's Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll, and a fair amount happened to the band in that time. Most notably, Dennis Danell, who had been the only constant in the band's lineup besides leader Mike Ness, died in 2001 at the age of 39, and on a pair of solo albums Ness began digging deeper into the roots music that had long informed his style. After confronting the grief of losing one of his best friends and exploring the less muscular side of his musical personality, Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll makes it clear Ness and his bandmates were ready to turn up the amps and make some noise, but while musically this is firmly in the So-Cal punk mode of their best work, lyrically this music reflects the mind of a more mature and thoughtful Mike Ness. Much as Ness dealt with the toll his years of drug abuse and casual violence had taken on him on the albums Social Distortion and Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll finds him pondering the stuff of genuine adulthood -- love, relationships, and looking to the future while trying to reconcile the past. "Live Before You Die" celebrates life in the moment without giving in to hedonism, Ness declares "I'm gonna trade in my old ways for a new shot at life" in "Faithless," and "Footprints on My Ceiling" tells the story of a man who has come to the realization that he has to accept his feelings if he's ever going to be loved. Some might think this means Ness is going emo on us after all these years, but in context these songs become the work of a man who's strong enough to know his own weaknesses and is struggling to become a better man by working through them, and the music -- with Ness ably assisted by John Maurer on bass, Jonny Wickersham on guitar, and Charlie Quintana on drums -- is potent, hard-hitting rock & roll with real heart and soul behind it. Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll shows that Social Distortion have held onto what made them great while growing and changing in the best ways, and the result is one of the best albums this band has made to date.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming