Buy Kid Rock’s Devil Without a Cause, and you’re entering a world in which craziness still lives, an untroubled, happy craziness in which people with no celebrity status at all— tract-house suburb people— can act free. The Kid, who offstage is Bob Ritchie, wears cornrows and a bowler hat, and he raps. True, it’s no big deal 10 years post-Beastie for a hip-to-be-square white guy to rap; but Kid’s so fully in love with rhythm and rhyme— so slick and lush in his versifying, so smooth rip-riding those funkadelic basslines— that he lures you into his lifeboat.
Fantasy and reality, he’s down with ’em both. Called earlier CDs Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast and Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp. Wants to be a cowboy, but he’s gotta mow the lawn. He drinks Jim Beam, he’s “straight out the trailer,” he “causes chaos and rocks like Amadeus.” And does it afront his Twisted Brown Trucker Band, whose buzzsaw blast and molasses boogie (Southern rock like only a bunch of Detroiters can do it) feels sticky and loud at the same time, both booming the Kid and comforting him. Basslines lift him high, guitar riffs swing him, push and spit and slipslide him, the way rock ‘n’ roll used to do before the days of punk and glam, wherein looking thinly at one’s surface self in the mirror replaced actually rocking and rolling, and the mirror-life’s Liberace effect made guitars feel diaphanous like parasol feathers instead of “motorvating over the hill,” as Chuck Berry put it during the Age of the Hot Rod.
Just as in Chuck Berry, it’s a whole lot easier (and easy is Kid’s point) for the lead talker in a band to tell his tale if the music keeps on tumbling, whining, ringing the changes. When the music rolls and the raps rock, there’s no need for all those complicated embellishments that make so-called modern rock sound like taxidermy— you hear me, Korn?
“Over there with a bad attitude, ’cause I just don’t care,” Kid announces, but actually he cares quite a lot. In his bio he boasts he’s been a total rap fan since 1984. (“I went to every fucking rap show . . . still have all my ticket stubs,” he says). And what he saw, he believed in, as becomes clear through his newest CD’s title song, a joyously loud sweetjam in which Kid talks himself bigger than life. WAAF-FM in my hometown Boston (“the only station that really rocks”) plays the hell out of the CD’s first single, “I Am the Bullgod,” in which Kid declares unforgettably, “I am free and I feel all that is forsaken.” There’s an echo here of Beck’s “Loser,” except Beck summed up being a loser as “so why don’tcha kill me,” whereas the Kid breathes proud life into forsakenness.
He’s free and alive enough to contradict himself— says “I never was cool with James Dean” even as he draws the CD’s title directly from the movie that made James Dean cool to begin with. And what Bullgod notes, as Kid does, that in the 1980s he was seeing a shrink? He’s free, too, to take his “Cowboy” vision not to the rugged West of real cowboys but to the artificial thrills of Tinseltown, where he can “get thrown out of bars” and roam the land of fake breasts, “buy a yacht with a flag saying Chilly the Most,” and find Heidi Fleiss and “a spot to pimp” on a stars’-houses map.
Still, for all the swiftness of Kid’s social realism, the chief joy of Devil Without a Cause is its soulful boogie. The Twisted Brown Trucker Band has it all, even a midget who raps. Joe C. doesn’t mind being the freak in a freak show. His chihuahua voice takes the mike and goes, “I’m a crazy hick, call me sick. Three-foot-nine with a 10-foot dick.” Backup singers Misty Love and Shirley Hayden meanwhile do the gospel vocals, divas rising from a doghouse full of joy and sin. “Wasting Time” is their red-clay triumph, crying, “I been sittin’ here, just smokin’ and drinkin’, trying to free my mind” alongside the blissed-out slides of guitarist Jason Krause.
What was true for classic rock ‘n’ roll is true for the guitars here: it’s the rhythm, stupid. The sweet stings that underpin “Cowboy,” the rifling that sends the gunshot in “I Got One for Ya” straight into your brain, the George Clinton Parliamentary procedures that bend the all-out bust-out “Welcome to the Party.” Because the basslines always sound like candy on fire, guitar solos like the ones in “Wasting Time” and “Somebody’s Gotta Feel This” always smoove no matter how loud their riffs get.
So if you like the brash bigness of Monster Magnet (and if you have an ounce of dogspit in your soul, you do) you’re absolutely gonna love Kid Rock’s inconsistencies, his welcome to the party, his middle finger— his “fist of rage.” There’s not a shred of Eddie Vedder worry or Eve 6 sentimentality in this Detroit Wheel music, no Marilyn Manson sounding 110 percent Bowielike, hopelessly headstuffed and glam to the max (but with none of the vicious grit that spangles the best glam from Gary Glitter to Sylvester to Dead or Alive). Kid is a honky and a homeboy— just like Detroit rock circa Mitch Ryder, when white guys too hard-assed for slick Motown music weren’t too proud to do their dance.