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Source Material: Kid Rock, Rock N Roll Jesus

by Chuck Eddy

Source Material: Kid Rock, Rock N Roll Jesus


By rights, Rock N Roll Jesus should've been when people stopped underestimating Kid Rock. When it first came out in October 2007, you might have been forgiven for thinking he was a has-been -- and if so, it wouldn't have been the first time the charts later proved you wrong. I mean, how many Kid Rock albums has this happened with? Several months and two non-pop-charting singles after its release, Jesus resurrected itself -- much like its namesake, not to mention like 1998's long-tailed breakthrough and career-best album Devil Without a Cause and 2001's "Picture"-spurred Cocky had before it. Buoyed by a late-breaking single that crossed over from country -- Kid's latter-day fallback format -- to pop and rock radio, the record wound up re-lodging itself in the Top 10 around Independence Day 2008, and eventually went on to sell 3 million copies in the U.S. and 2 million more in the rest of the world.

The seasonal bent of "All Summer Long" -- an appropriately lazy, unabashedly manipulative and eventually inescapable late-'70s-Seger-style reminiscence of pre-Internet-era teenaged deflowering and marijuana consumption in Northern Michigan that made no attempt to disguise its "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Werewolves of London" steals -- proved such perfect timing that two knock-off cover versions wound up charting to fill the digital-sales gap, until Kid finally let services like Napster carry his stuff. And despite being a quintessentially Ameri-themed and -sounding song, it wound up scoring not only in the U.S., but also all across Europe, topping the chart in places where most everybody would have trouble pinpointing Northern Michigan on a map: The UK, Austria, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland. It even went Top 5 in Israel and Turkey!

Anyway, here's one thing almost nobody pointed out at the time, even though Jesus first entered Billboard at No. 1, apparently with hardly any critics actually listening to it: It's a real good album. (I actually listed it in my 2007 Top 10, though among 784 critics voting in that year's Idolator and Village Voice year-end polls, I was the only voter to do so.) It was Kid's own best set since Devil, and easily had his funniest punch lines since -- most rip-roaringly in the closing John Eddie cover "Lowlife (Living the Highlife)," which (after a funky initial "Bang a Gong"/ "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" riff) starts out, "I've got my Cat Scratch Fever eight-track/ My best friend's in my gun rack," then proceeds in many ways guaranteed to offend the humorless.

"Lowlife" rocks my sweat-socks off, too, and it's not alone. I wholeheartedly recommend "New Orleans" (well-saxed second-line R&B-grooved homage to gumbo and The Neville Brothers); "Blue Jeans and a Rosary" (saved-by-a-Catholic-girl power ballad cornballism swaying like mid-period Cinderella or Faster Pussycat); "Half Your Age" (vengeful-hillbilly jerkitude allegedly aimed at Pamela Anderson and reminiscent of Kid's buddy David Allan Coe in more or less the same way Guns N' Roses' "Used to Love Her" used to be); and "So Hott" (spare "Black Betty"-by-Ram Jam drumbeat evolving into a "Satisfaction"-gone-Clear-Channel-rock rhythm so brawny you can ignore the lunkhead lugnut come-ons). "Sugar" has some okay Steve Tyler-type screeching and giddily race-baiting lines -- "Kiss my Anglo-Saxon ass," har har. And "Amen" -- a socially conscious gospel move unconvincingly tipping its topper to early Seger's "Ball of Confusion"-absorbing hippie side, then adding some okay hair-metal guitar -- is smarter than it seems at first.

"All Summer Long" always makes me think of Werewolf Warren Zevon's "Play It All Night Long" -- "Sweet Home Alabama/ Play that dead band's song" (and thus by association, sundry tracks on Drive-By Truckers' 2001 Skynyrd homage Southern Rock Opera). The other songs on Jesus (a couple more sappy ballads, a brag where he likens himself to Cool Hand Luke and Bad Bad Leroy Brown) are respectable throwaways.

Basically, Rock N Roll Jesus proved Kid Rock still a consummate pro, proud to be a journeyman like his '70s rock heroes. So here's a short stack of albums that seem ingrained in its genetic makeup: Southern boogie to butt rock, outlaw country to glam metal, '80s rock-hop to '00s hick-hop, Jim Croce to Neville Brothers. It was not a hard list to make -- Kid Rock's the kind of guy who tends to wear his influences on his sleeve. Except when he's wearing a wife-beater.

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