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Album Review: Kid Rock ‘Rebel Soul’

Kid Rock had a strangely structured rise in rock music, starting off somewhere between genres and making the most of it with enormous sales to match his ego and image. In recent years though it feels like he has come to a plateau, and while the sales are still there his music hasn’t seemed as important, as relevant, and maybe not as good.

He instantly reasserts that he is in fact the biggest redneck in rock music with “Chickens in the Pen”, which may not have been necessary but is still a fun opener. It feels right as the album’s introduction, and opens things up to go in almost any direction.

As opposed to his older music, which was sort of hillbilly rap, there is very mature, strong southern rock here. “Let’s Ride” could easily be a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, which would be tough to say about much of Kid’s back catalog. He may in fact be one of the best in the genre today, but these songs have a very paint-by-numbers, accessible sound, which will only get him so far.

“3 CATT Boogie” kicks off with a bluesy, over driven guitar intro, and finds a strong rhythm backbone complete with rigid hand clapping. His cutesy country vocal flairs here work well, where in the past something similar might have sounded forced or even sarcastic. What really begins to stand out is the backing vocal and Kid’s always strong band, Twisted Brown Trucker.

“Detroit, Michigan” is not a very inspired ode to his hometown, reworked from the Ronnie Love original to be more inclusive and send praise to every other city or state Kid Rock ever got laid in. It’s not exactly a secret that Kid is very proud to come from where he does, so maybe he doesn’t feel the need to boast as much at this stage. More likely, he’s pandering a bit.

When the title track, “Rebel Soul” came around, I found myself thinking that there had better be something half of one percent edgy about it, which there really was not. The song fits with the record well enough, and it is good southern rock, but it’s nothing special. Apart from the grit in his voice and his past reputation, there isn’t much about Kid Rock that screams rebel these days, or that is even particularly interesting. Every song feels like one cliche or another, even though they are done well enough to get away with it.

The first real standout, and the first glimpse of the sometimes tormented side of Kid Rock is “The Mirror”, a very candid conversation with himself about his self-destructive tendencies and fear of being alone. Though it stands out from the record it still feels very much lifted from a blueprint most of the way through. When the song kicks it up at the end it gets very epic, the emotion is palpable, and that might be the album’s best moment

The final few songs seem almost designed to shut me up and prove that Kid Rock is still a complete and total badass, but even on this mission he is somewhat apprehensive. “Cucci Galore” is another cover, finally introducing a hip hop presence and not exactly being subtle in its desire to get between your legs. It feels like a welcome shift in mode for the album, but is followed immediately by ‘Redneck Paradise’, which strives only to undo that.

“Cocaine and Gin” is the penultimate track, and though it’s a very slow burner, the down-tempo track manages a fairly meaningful visit to the dark side. I guess one problem with the attitude of this record is that where in the past Kid Rock has been very happy about his antics, he now feels apologetic and regretful. The days of the ‘American Bad Ass’ may well have come to an end, which is probably good for him, but it was a fun sideshow for the rest of us.

Taken for what it is, which is a rather typical southern rock record with a bit of a throwback quality, Rebel Soul is very good, but it’s just not very captivating and it seems overly safe. I guess if one is going to stagnate it is at least a good idea to pick a real strength, and Kid Rock is very strong in this light.

Release Date: November 19, 2012
Image Courtesy of Atlantic

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