Kid Rock refers to "Rebel Soul," his ninth album, as "a greatest hits feeling record with all new songs." In other words, the 14-song set - recorded at Rock's home AllenRoadHouse studio and his rehearsal facility - The Warehouse - has the punk rock, the Southern rock, the hip-hop he sings about in his 2001 hit "Forever," as well as the metal, blues, soul, country and even gospel that he likes to stir into one of the most diverse musical blends that's been consistently going for the past 20 years.
"Rebel Soul" faces something of a challenge: Kid Rock's latest follows 2010's Rick Rubin-produced "Born Free," which was saluted for its earnest songwriting and creative growth but that some longtime Rock-heads felt was missing the element of fun and irreverent, devil (without a cause, of course)-may-care 'tude that's as much a hallmark of Rock's music as his fedora. "Rebel Soul" brings that back into the mix without sacrificing the lessons Rock learned from working with Rubin and his cadre of top-shelf session hands - only this time he applied them to the live, lived-in feel of his Twisted Brown Trucker band (including main co-writer and guitarist Marlon Young), abetting it with a handful of guests such as guitarists Blake Mills (Fiona Apple, Dawes), Audley Freed (the Black Crowes, the Dixie Chicks, Jakob Dylan) and Keith Gattis, as well as Sponge/Crud frontman Vinnie Dombroski, who plays drums on several tracks. "I like to make records… kind of the way you tailor a live show," Rock explains. "You take people on this musical journey, taking them up, taking them down. That's what I wanted this record to feel like."
Strap in and, as the song says, let's ride, as we break down "Rebel Soul" track by track.
1. Chickens In The Pen: Big drums and semi-drunken gang vocals usher in this gritty, Southern-flavored barnyard stop. The party's on at the Dew Drop Inn, where mules are kickin' chickens and Rock wants to "set the woods on fire" with his female find of the evening. Unlike anything Rock's done before, but both fun and very funny.
2. Let's Ride
The tone is decidedly more serious on "Rebel Soul's" first single, a charging, muscular anthem for troops going into battle. Guitars blaze as Rock - who's made several visits to play for troops in overseas battle zones - paints a stark lyrical picture of what the GIs face in Afghanistan and Iraq; "No pussy, no dope, this ain't Saigon/But keep your heads up for roadside bombs." We hear a soundtrack future in this one.
3. 3 Catt Boogie: Rock, who supported Mitt Romney in this year's presidential election, puts his politics on in this bluesy roadhouse shuffle, but it's colored more populist than red or blue: "Uncle Sam's sellin' us a one-world nation/Banks hedgin' bets for the net generation/and Wall Street's stirrin' up the whole situation." Young and Mills do their best Keith Richards-Mick Taylor tag teams through the 12 bars, with a backing vocal chorus to match.
4. Detroit, Michigan: Kid Rock singing about his home town? We're so surprised. His latest paean to Motown sounds like… well, vintage Motown and is actually an appropriation of Ronnie Love's 1965 single of the same name, with Rock adding an intro set-up referencing other cities and name-checking Bob Seger, Eminem and George Clinton. It's a joyful hand-clapper punctuated by Dave McMurray's saxophone.
5. Rebel Soul: The album's title track starts as an easygoing country trot but builds into a Southern rock gallop propelled by a warm, down-home mix of guitars and keyboards. Rock sounds like he's indeed riding the high plains in this drifter's anthem, whether in an open-topped Jeep or on horseback, singing about paying "the price of giving back" and "tryin' to fight these demons" - which, of course, remain unspecified.
6. Redneck Paradise: This sounds like what could be waiting for the "Rebel Soul" guy when he gets to his destination - moonshine whiskey, homemade wine, friends, family. Teaming with the Young Brothers, Rock digs into a good-time, down-home country lope to bring us a Garden of Eden that allows chewing tobacco.
7. Happy New Year: Rock stays on the country/roots tip on this midtempo John Eddie celebration. "John's a great guy and a good songwriter and a fun songwriter," Rock says, "and he had that idea and I'm like, 'Wow, I can't believe no one's written a New Year's song like that. He had written the song but we flipped it around; I was like, "I want to make this about getting laid.' It seems to me New Year's, a wedding, things like that seem like opportunity. Something's in the air in those situations…so we just put it in that mind set and went with it."
8. Celebrate: The song title says it all - a train-track shuffle drives this soul-rocker down to Memphis. There's a reason Rock's pal Bob Seger has been talking up this one, and we're betting it turns into a big live favorite.
9. The Mirror: Rock darkens the mood and slows the tempo for this paean about self-doubt, longing and unrequited love - and employs Auto-Tune in the process. Rock's "wretched soul" finds no relief, either, as he concludes that "I feel like we will always walk along."
10. Mr. Rock n Roll: Back to the bombast as Rock and company strike up the boogie and light into a character he views as the progeny of an REO Speedwagon roadie and a stripper. Try playing a drinking game where you take a shot for every reference to a great rock 'n' roller and/or his or her song.
11. Cucci Galore: Rock slides back into the fur coat-wearing, blinged-out pimp of the nation that seems like a figure from the distant past at this point. Considered for "Born Free," this slinky slice of rap-rock comes complete with hot tub, champagne in belly buttons, Lamborghinis with leopard-print interiors, edible bikinis - and a guest appearance by Flavor Flav. Rock also gives shout-outs to Hugh Hefner and to ex-wife Pamela Anderson, who he notes is "here hangin' with a douchebag."
12. God Save Rock n Roll: Rock's take on the "Jukebox Hero"/"Shooting Star" motif has a decidedly country feel as his hero - from southwest Detroit, which really exists as opposed to Journey's south Detroit - goes through the rigors of makin' it, breakin' it and ultimately being broken. "He got dropped in the middle of consolidation," Rock sings. Thousands can feel his pain.
13. Cocaine and Gin: "Rebel Soul's" only completely outside contribution (it was co-written by Uncle Kracker keyboardist Mark Miers), this soulful country lament finds rock staring at the bottom of a bottle and suffering through his lot in life. "If sorrows' a game then I'm winnin'," he moans. Quick - hook this guy up with Cucci Galore!
14. Midnight Ferry: Rock closes "Rebel Soul" in a serious but celebratory mood with this reflective end-of-days song that starts in rootsy country territory and builds into a hand-clapping, "Hallelujah, hey" chorus refrain. He claims that "I don't want the last word" - but forgive us if we have a hard time believing it.