Kid Rock: Rebel Soul

Cartoon redneck makes a sophisticated blues-rock album. So is it time to take him seriously?

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We’ve all wondered, at some stage, what Kid Rock is for. Turn-of-the-century Detroit rap rock, redneck buffoonery, mainstream country-pop nostalgia? The personal life is more confusing than the music, a mix of stoner high jinx and deep conservatism – there was the sex tape with him out of Creed and the marriage to Pamela Anderson, but he’s also a proud single dad and staunch Republican.

He’s getting on now, of course, and spends much of his time fronting his own ‘Chillin’ The Most’ cruise on a luxury liner from Miami to the Bahamas. This year, he named the destination ‘Redneck Paradise’ after a song on his new album – which is, incidentally, the most impressive and musically literate record Kid Rock has ever made.

First, a health warning. At the centre of Rebel Soul is a political statement, Let’s Ride, a sinew-stiffening battle song for troops in Afghanistan clearly designed to take its place alongside Enter Sandman in the US military’s sinister musical arsenal. ‘WARRRRRRRR’ (to borrow from 1999’s Bawitdaba) is no joke – Kid Rock really believes in this stuff. He’s even broken his lifelong iTunes boycott to sell more records and raise money for soldiers. If the song’s sentiment is divisive, the music is seductive – a slick sweep of classic rock from mid-70s Bob Seger to Bon Jovi to a Steven Tyler screaming fade-out – not a hint of the cheesy backpacker ‘smokin’ funny things’ on All Summer Long.

Rebel Soul is produced by Rock and features his floating 11-piece band Twisted Brown Trucker, but in parts it feels like the work of two dozen Muscle Shoals musicians. The main template is Detroit blues-rock and the sound that crops up time and again is Seger: on Celebrate, he’s pure Rambling Gambling Man – he’s even affected that lovely, smoky flick in his voice – and Mr Rock And Roll is a tribute bordering on pastiche that talks about ‘Kathmandu’.

Detroit Michigan, meanwhile, is a Motown hall of fame, referencing Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Rosa Parkes amid shoop-shoop vocals and acres of sax. Who’d have thought Kid Rock could do classy? For the rednecks, the humour’s still there, in Cucci Galore (a dirty rap with a Chili Peppers chorus) and Happy New Year, where he carols, ’Let’s get shitfaced, let’s get shitfaced’.

But for the most part, Rebel Soul seems to celebrate rock’n’roll itself as the heart of America’s power. Like many of the brightest guys, Kid Rock’s spent a lot of his career playing dumb, and here’s a welcome glimpse of the musical brain underneath.