“Where I’m going’s where I’m at.”
So says Kid Rock on the title track of his 9th studio album. And considering everywhere Rock has gone during the past 22 years, we can have faith that we’re headed for another fascinating, fornicating, galvanizing, eyebrow-raising, endlessly surprising — at the very least interesting — trip on the 14 tracks of REBEL SOUL.
He has, after all, been our Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp, the Devil Without a Cause, the Cowboy, the Bullgod, the Rock N Roll Jesus, the American Bad Ass and, lest we forget, a proud Son Of Detroit — all while eating some Grits Sandwiches For Breakfast, doing a bit of Yo-Da-Lin In The Valley and getting 3 Sheets To The Wind. Rock has taken us out to the party and into the bedroom, and on contemplative trips through the Midwestern American spirit. Where he’s going tends to be a lot of places.
And Rock jots them all on REBEL SOUL, the follow-up to 2010’s platinum BORN FREE and the finest, fiercest and funkiest embodiment to date of the punk rock/hip-hop/Southern rock synthesis he described on his 2001 hit “Forever.” It is, in his own words, “a greatest hits with all new songs and everything I’ve touched on in my career at this point — whether it’s the writing style, the singing style, the attitude, the playing…It’s all the things I’ve learned for so many years, on my own and from so many of the people that influenced me.”
“I was talking to somebody the other day, trying to explain the record,” he adds, pausing before he lets out a laugh. “I said ‘It’s really confusing — so it’s a perfect Kid Rock record!’ ”
REBEL SOUL also represents one of the “easiest” albums Rock has made to this point, a mark of the confidence, assuredness and — dare we say it — maturity he and his team have developed over time. The evolution has been genuine and organic, over the course of 26 million record sales and a slew of hits — from “Bawitdaba” to “Born Free” — that have criss-crossed the rock, pop and country charts. And let’s not discount the impact made by his pair of studio facilities, The Warehouse and the Allen Roadhouse, in the Detroit exurbs, which contributed significantly to the almost offhanded manner by which REBEL SOUL came to be earlier this year.
“We had a bunch of songs written and were just learning them to see how they felt,” Rock recalls. “Everyone was playing really well, so I said, ‘Let’s hook this [recording gear] up and take a crack at it. If we don’t use it we don’t use it, but we’re gonna learn something about all these songs as we play ’em. And lo and behold, we got started and just kept going and made a record.”
Working with the members of his crack Twisted Brown Trucker band and sprinkling in some choice guests — guitarists Blake Mills (Jackson Browne, Fiona Apple), Audley Freed (the Black Crowes, the Dixie Chicks, Jakob Dylan), Keith Gattis (Kenny Chesney, Gary Allan, Eli Young Band) and Sponge’s Vinnie Dombroski — and with old friend and former TBT member Uncle Kracker co-writing three tracks, Rock says a balance of feel and arrangement was his musical focus for REBEL SOUL. “I wanted to let people get in there and play and not give them too much direction or try to make it too perfect,” he explains. “But then I took it and added some more parts afterwards. I look at Eagles records and things like that where they have these great guitar lines and great parts, whether it’s a keyboard riff or something else. But I was careful not to change the feel.”
Rock also deliberately took REBEL SOUL all over the musical map. The gleeful “Chickens In The Pen” kicks things off with Southern grit and tribal vocals, while “Let’s Ride,” REBEL SOUL’s first single and Rock’s tribute to troops in service overseas, is heavy, guitar-drenched riff rock. A roadhouse-style blues shuffle drives the politically tinged “3 CATT Boogie,” while his Dixie inclinations fortify the title track “Rebel Soul,” “Redneck Paradise,” the John Eddie co-write “Happy New Year” and the mournful “Cocaine and Gin.” “God Save Rock n Roll,” meanwhile, is Rock’s version of the classic rise and fall tale that’s a kindred spirit to the likes of Bad Company’s “Shooting Star” and Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero.” “Detroit, Michigan” offers a joyous, Motown-spirited shout out to Rock’s beloved home town, while “Celebrate” is a vintage slice of soul-rock that nods to Nutbush, Tenn.
Rock also gets deep into some characters on REBEL SOUL, starting with “Mr. Rock n Roll,” a dynamic production piece that doubles as a history lesson, or what Rock calls “a journey through music.” “It’s just saying how soulless records are now, so how about this — right in your face,” Rock explains. “This guy’s dad was a roadie for REO Speedwagon in the 70s and his mom was a high-priced call girl in Hollywood, and he was a product of that. That’s why he’s got eyeliner on and a big sequined suit. It’s a Captain Fantastic, Ziggy Stardust kind of thing.” Then there’s “Cucci Galore,” a return to rap-rock roots with hot tubs, leopard-skinned Lamborghinis, edible bikinis, a slinky guitar line, Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav on board for quality control — and yet another Rock persona, Bobby Shazam.
“I thought there should be this other dude in the song, who’s just way out of his fucking gourd,” Rock says. “He’s that rock ‘n’ roll who’s beyond the ‘I don’t give a fuck attitude.’ I love to get into characters like that and just have fun with them.”
Fun, in fact, was crucial for REBEL SOUL, especially after the rich earnestness heard on BORN FREE. “Yeah, it’s a fun record,” Rock says. You’ve got a lot of total Kid Rock songs. A lot of this stuff I could just feel how it’s going to be when we do it live.”
REBEL SOUL packs plenty of gravitas, too. “The Mirror,” for instance, is as dark and heart-wrenching a song as Rock has ever put on album, with Auto Tune-laced vocals that give the lyrics an eerie, spectral feel. “Let’s Ride” was written as “a theme song for the kids that have to go into the shit and fight,” many of whom Rock has met during his many trips into the battle theaters of Iraq and Afghanistan. And the album-closing “Midnight Ferry” is a rootsy, funereal reflection that resolves into handclapping “Hallelujah!” celebration.
“You kind of go in and out of those moods at times — you dive into them and come out of it,” Rock notes. “Sometimes you’re sitting around and feeling reflective and thinking about things, and other times you’re like, ‘Let’s get this fuckin’ party started!’ But they’re all human emotions. We all have all of them, and it wouldn’t be honest not to reflect them.”
The full breadth of the human experience is Rock’s palette, of course — in his music and also beyond. He’s become active in humanitarian and philanthropic concerts, working with organizations such as Operation Finally Home, which builds houses for disabled returning veterans, establishing the Kid Rock Foundation to help fund various projects and initiatives around the country, and raising $1 million for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. There was also his pre-election “Americans” video with actor Sean Penn, which delivered the message “Don’t let politics divide us. Thinking differently. It’s what made this country great.”
“I’m fortunate; I have the means and the resources to go beyond the music and all the rock ‘n’ roll hype and everything and do some good work,” Rock notes. “I want to do stuff that does fit me, and I want to do stuff that absolutely doesn’t fit — just do stuff that’s different, with the music and with everything that comes along with it.”