On his 10th studio effort Kid Rock is, to borrow the title of his annual sea cruise, chillin’ the most. His first album since departing longtime label Atlantic for Warner Bros., First Kiss is hardly his most adventurous project, but it is perhaps his most easygoing, tuneful one. The production is crisp and clean, the guitars are sparkling, the vibe is rollicking but relaxed. And surprisingly, kicking back suits Rock: He sounds better here than he has in a long time.
This is the self-proclaimed Bullgod proudly showing off his blue-collar, everyman side. He indulges his “red-blooded white-boy blues” on “Ain’t Enough Whiskey” and warmly reminisces about his first crush on the pop-rocking title track. Bump-and-grind rave-up “Good Times, Cheap Wine” proudly writes off modern-world trappings like Facebook, Twitter and, um, Coldplay (it also is one of several songs on which Rock is backed by members of the Austin roots-rockers Band of Heathens).
At 44 years old, Rock is finally growing up, or at least toning down. In 2012, on “Cucci Galore,” a track from Rebel Soul, a Kid Rock party meant edible bikinis and chocolate martinis; now, on First Kiss’ “Good Time Lookin’ for Me,” Rock’s idea of fun is hanging out at “a juke joint jumping with whiskey flowing like a river.” But when he does get worked up, lamenting the absence of God in schools and that “toting guns is the latest fad” on “Drinking Beer With Dad,” his advice is merely to, as the title instructs, pop open a cold one with the old man.
First Kiss recalls the sound and spirit of 2010’s breezy, Rick Rubin-helmed Born Free. But whereas that record’s presentation of a gentler, more ripened Rock occasionally came across as calculated, here the singer — who also produced most of this album — fits comfortably into a modern country-rock landscape that seems practically tailor-made for him: a God-fearing good old boy with a hard-rock heart and an outlaw-country spirit.
First Kiss’ penultimate track, “Jesus and Bocephus,” lays out this persona in absurd but appealing fashion, with Rock, over a bed of solemn church organ and keening fiddle, finding salvation in the twin shadows of the son of God and the son of Hank Williams Sr. — “two sets of footprints in the sand.” The American Bad Ass, grown up and giving thanks.