The first time I heard Kid Rock, he was performing on MTV’s “Fashionably Loud.” This was 1998, way before the internet was a pedestrian source of information, when I was still in high school, and the only thing my classmates and I could all agree on was that whatever was on MTV was the cutting edge of music. Fashionably Loud — a show where musicians like Kid Rock, N*Sync, Prodigy and Eminem serenaded models strutting across a catwalk set up around a stage on a Florida beach or some other location.
Kid – who has somehow managed to remove all youtube videos of this performance – was wearing what later came to be known as the Kid Rock uniform: a fedora and a white wife-beater undershirt. He had with him his small buddy Joe C, also sporting a fedora with a shiny gold suit, who astounded all when he doubled-up on Kid Rock’s vocals, dirty words and all, in a child-like voice some three octaves higher than Mr. Rock’s own. And, just before the cameras cut away, Joe C took an easy opportunity to look up one of the supermodel’s skirt as she passed by, with her hemline about level with the brim of Mr. C’s hat.
It was a true spectacle: pole dancers, supermodels, metal guitarists with brightly colored hair, a DJ scratching records and a beach full of crazed spring breakers. And then there was Kid, who seemed completely at home in the midst of all the chaos, like a ringleader of a circus gone mad. He didn’t seem to care that most people at home (like me) had no idea who he was: he must have known that we soon would.
Devil Without a Cause, released a short time later, killed the charts, going eleven times platinum. The ridiculously titled “Bawitdaba” made a nonsense word a household familiarity. “Cowboy” was a mandatory rock-radio staple for years after, and this writer was surprised to find that he still remembered every word of Mr. Rock’s ballad “Only God Knows Why” despite not having heard the song in over ten or eleven years, a testament to the song’s ubiquity in 1999.
Since then, Mr. Rock put out a handful of albums but none received the attention that Devil Without a Cause generated. His highest charting single came from his 2001 album Cocky, a duet with Sheryl Crow that seemed to bridge the gap between Rock’s country-flavored rap/rock and, well, country.
This quick transition away from macho, aggressive songs about cutting the lawn and claims of bad-assery would prove telling; his 2010 release Born Free is a lot more country and soul than 8Mile white boy rap. It’s an easier listen for those who aren’t simultaneously pumping iron, moshing, or robbing a liquor store; the kind of music ideal for listening to on a while sitting on a porch on a summer’s day with a glass of Jack Daniel’s spiked lemonade.
It only makes sense, then, to push back in the direction of heavier things, but Kid is wise enough to not attempt to recreate the wild chaos of his earlier works, instead settling into a kind of 70’s hard rock vibe with songs like “Let’s Ride” and “Detroit, Michigan.” The title track, “Rebel Soul,” sounds like it was written for Bob Seger (or even by Seger himself), and this suits Mr. Rock, an admitted Seger fan, very well.
Rebel Soul is Kid Rock all grown up. It’s surprising how well the songs blend together, despite Mr. Rock’s own admission that the musical variety of songs on Rebel Soul “is confusing as shit.” “Cucci Galore,” with it’s funky guitar riff and falsetto crooning that descends into power-riffing and distorted vocals, is the one track that doesn’t seem to fit in with its newly born brothers, and yet it’s the song that seems to be the most direct descendant of “Devil Without a Cause.” There’s a ballad that would make for good slow-dancing in red state small town bars called “Cocaine and Gin” and another song called “Redneck Paradise” that would make for good line-dancing in the same juke joint.
The song that is perhaps the easiest to overlook, “Happy New Year,” is also one of Rebel Soul’s best. “When that clock strikes/I’ll pull you near/just to wish you/Happy New Year,” a surprisingly sweet sentiment from the guy who previously claimed that he would “f*ck you blind.” Play it for party guests as the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, and you might just surprise them when you tell them that it’s Kid Rock.
2012 New York