Rock ‘N’ Roll Jesus
Talking to Entertainment Weekly, Kid Rock assigned some awfully lofty ambition to his then-upcoming Rock 'n' Roll Jesus: "If you just had to play one American rock 'n' roll album for somebody, this would be [the one]." But a week before his new disc hit the street, two older guys, who've previously released what many consider to be among the greatest American rock 'n' roll albums of all time, also released new discs, each featuring its own lofty title. How each stands up under scrutiny (or at least how one responds to them) probably has more to do with where the listener came in and how much he or she brings to this particular ballgame.
Kid Rock channels a lot of classic rock radio archetypes here, something that's obvious from the moment the effective Grand Funk-like drums kick off the title track and the album. Elsewhere, one can hear definite strains of AC/DC (as well as numerous lesser metal bands), Zep-like gothic folk, maybe even some Exile-era gospel-ized Stones (albeit by way of John Mellencamp). "Don't Tell Me U Love Me," despite its Prince-like title, rips off lyrical phrases from Steve Miller's "The Joker." Hell, "All Summer Long" (alas, not a Beach Boys cover) is a literal mash-up of "Werewolves of London" and "Sweet Home Alabama," with lyrics that recall a modernized, more graphic (which, sadly, also means a dumbed-down) version of "Night Moves." Only problem is the song ultimately leaves one wanting to hear the Zevon, Skynyrd and Seger originals more than what's playing. And there lies the problem with most of the album: Kid's hooks aren't nearly as memorable as the ones by the artists he's attempting to emulate.
That said, Rock 'n' Roll Jesus isn't a bad rock album for what it is, especially in an age of diminished returns. And "New Orleans" is a truly memorable, fun butt-rocker, unlike anything the artist has released to date (although he cheapened this Fats Domino tribute by pointing out to Entertainment Weekly that the "going down" line in its chorus can be interpreted as a double entendre for oral sex; exactly how one gives head to a city, though, is lost on me). But although the strippers, Pamela Anderson and all the other props are indeed real, when the Romeo native Bob Ritchie who originally came on like a white pimp rap-rocker (one of the best, of course, though when your competition includes clods like Fred Durst ...) and then a "country" star, complete with a Confederate flag (?) flown proudly behind him now claims the title of "rock Jesus," wearing that silly little hat and delivering lines like "I fuck hot pussy until it's cold" ... well, it's obvious that Bob's also a bit of a rock 'n' roll cartoon, akin to a modern KISS. Or the Archies.
Bruce Springsteen, of course, offers a more expansive (albeit subtle) list of rock influences, not to mention a more expansive (if mournful) view of America itself, on Magic. Part of the appeal of Springsteen and his band is that they can channel both the Swingin' Medallions and the Famous Flames (while Bruce himself at least the early version was said to be channeling both the young Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan at the same time), and the influences here remain vast (from classic R&B to Spector, Brian Wilson and Del Shannon to the best of the hard rock guitar heroes), although not nearly as easily identifiable as on Kid Rock's LP. But while the hook-filled music can occasionally be celebratory (while lamenting a time when rock was a redemptive force; see "Radio Nowhere"), the lyrics are far from cheerful, examining an America that's lost much (and not just idealism; see "Your Own Worst Enemy" and "Livin' in the Future") during the last seven years, including loved ones coming back from Iraq in boxes ("Gypsy Biker"), dying for "a mistake" ("Last to Die"). The title track is ironic, as it's about the "tricks" performed by Bush, Cheney and crew. Decades ago, John Sebastian asked: "Do you believe in the magic of rock 'n' roll?" Sadly, it'll be a "Long Walk Home" before America recaptures the idealistic spirit Springsteen remembers it once having. But this album surely one of the best of the year demonstrates that there can still be a bit of "magic" in the music, if not many other places these days.
Hopefully, Fogerty's new album won't get lost in the shuffle, as it's a fine return to form. This is one artist who can actually channel himself (though Springsteen does some of that as well) when it comes to influences (after all, he's the only man in history sued for plagiarizing himself!), and the title of this album, as well as songs called "Creedence Song" and "Summer of Love," reveal where he's coming from, perhaps finally reaching some peace with his past. Hell, he even refers to Dubya as a "Fortunate Son" on one of the tunes. Yet another look at the Bush years and their repercussions, Revival, if this was the vinyl era, would have a first side that's country-influenced, with side two devoted to Fogerty's more rockin' side.
The opener, "Don't You Wish It Was True," taking a romanticized look at the world, draws home how lame Kid Rock's social-political tract, "Amen," is when pitted against some real competition. Of course, nothing here matches "Green River" (but then, what does?), although "I Can't Take It No More" ("It" being Bush's "dirty little war") rocks almost as hard as "Travelin' Band." Ultimately, this is Fogerty's best solo effort since Centerfield.
So, if I were Robert Christgau, it would go something like this: Kid Rock: B-; Fogerty: B+; Springsteen: A. (As a recovering, still often-guilt-filled Catholic, I'd have to reserve the A+ for Jesus himself. After all, speaking of "magic," that cat could change water into wine ...)Bill Holdship is Metro Times music editor. Send comments to [email protected]