Wednesday, October 22, 2008

10/22/08 - Devil Without A Cause (I'm Going Platinum!)

In Fargo Rock City, Chuck Klosterman's excellent memoir of an '80s pop-metal drenched childhood in North Dakota, he spills a lot of ink defending the music that gets popular over music that gets the nod from the critical establishment. In his formulation (and I paraphrase), a lot of what's considered beneath contempt at the time due to its lowbrow/lowest common denominator appeal winds up being more culturally resonant than what's championed by the serious musical critics and thinkers at the time. So, for example, Led Zeppelin, famously critically reviled, has since been a beneficiary of revisionist history by dint of their hugely influential discography. And likewise, AC/DC has outlasted and out-endured anyone that originally held them to be unoriginal and repetitive (sure, they are, but so is a Mantra).

This divide between popular and critical opinion is fascinating to me; half of the time I agree with music critics that take terrible acts like Matchbox 20 down a peg, but the other half of the time I think that the position of cultural arbiter goes to the brain and it becomes difficult to identify those artists with a certain kind of visceral appeal of the kind that AC/DC and Led Zeppelin both exemplified.

Which brings me to Kid Rock. Now, I'm not going to argue that Kid Rock is someone whose artistic output is any kind of shining peak of musical accomplishment, but there's a a reason that Devil Without A Cause sold something like 8 bajillion copies. At heart, Kid Rock is musically inclusive, and did a better job than anyone this side of Rage Against the Machine of integrating the cadences of hip-hop with the enduring musical idioms of blues-rock. And Rage, I would argue, for all their hip-hop influences, fall on the stiff side of funky- musically, they seem more out of the hectoring KRS-One side of the hip-hop lineage than the G-Funk party music side of things.

Kid Rock, on the other hand, is all about the party. This doesn't necessarily diminish his output - so is AC/DC. So is Snoop Dogg. So is Chuck Berry. The linchpin of Kid Rock's inclusive musical spirit is right there in his first big hit: "Get in the pit and try to love someone". What this means musically is a shotgun wedding between Southern/Midwestern sleaze rock with the bombastic boasts of hip-hop. When it works, it's an inspired fusion that could be called a truly original hybrid. "Cowboy", one of the Kid's high-water marks, lays out Snoop's Cali fantasies over a loping, funky rock bed, expanding the gangster boasts sonically by setting them to the sounds of self-confident southern rock.

Current hit "All Summer Long" is a rock mashup of "Werewolves of London" and "Sweet Home Alabama", a remix for the rock idiom in which the Kid spins out a summer fantasy straight out of Grease (well, with a lot more booze and weed) over the recontextualized sounds of summers passed. "Picture" is an old-school country duet with Sheryl Crow that showcases Bob Ritchie's embrace of the occasional classicist move.

Now, on the downside, Kid Rock I think is ultimately going to serve as more of blueprint than the finished edifice, more Elvis than Beatles, because for the most part his lyrics are terrible. He brings in hip-hop, sure, but he employs the couplet structure of early Beastie Boys/Run-DMC with only the occasional witty touch. For the most part, it's empty bluster; read any interview with the Kid and one comes away with the impression that he shares some traits with our soon-to-be-departed POTUS - a love of self precluding introspection and a self-satisfaction that impedes forward progress.

Nonetheless, some of Kid Rock's best songs apply the kind of rock/hip-hop fusion that points the way towards the inclusive musical future that we're all heading toward. And he carries the torch for the forgotten Midwest, a self-proclaimed American bad-ass who is going to wave the flag, chug Jack straight from the bottle, and let a midget rock the guest verse while a black woman holds it down on drums. Don't write the man off.

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