Here I am again, your faithful graduate of “angry white boys” anonymous, digging away at the bummers of my adolescent disc content. Why, you ask? While Limp Bizkit’s Gold Cobra sits on an undetermined release date, one of Michigan’s least finest has begun trying to assert himself as a cowboy (baby). Say what you want about ICP and the Bizkit, but at least they have never once minced words about who they really are.
Kid Rock‘s best days in the rap-rock game are far behind him, though it is known that he can rock a mean turntable. It has been over a decade since Devil Without A Cause made Rock a late ’90s smash overnight, but subsequent releases like Cocky, Kid Rock, and Rock & Roll Jesus (*cough* pretentious *cough*) noted an evolution steering clearer of rap, furthering instead a penchant for Bob Seger impersonations. One could claim Rock is going the way of Jovi by pretending to be a country boy (from fucking Jersey?), complete with arena gigs where old ladies melt for a blond Kroeger, but I digress.
Born Free is the latest from our formerly bad-ass American; this is an album that tries so damned hard to be steady southern rock, coming shy of a respectable clone. First, let us get the positive points noted quick and painlessly.
Rock’s years of advancing toward something more mature seem to have finally paid off to some extent. Opening titular single “Born Free” is a powerful tune all around, being cribbed by TBS for its 2010 MLB coverage; Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, Los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo, and Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench take the place of Rock’s typical Twisted Brown Trucker backing band (it pays to have friends when Kracker has screws loose); production by Rick Rubin yields more stripped-down bar band elements to yet another album in his oeuvre, indicating his and Rock’s cameo in the video for Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” wasn’t coincidence.
Songs like “Rock Bottom Blues” and “God Bless Saturday” are the biggest indicators that the Kid is hard at work trying to bring on a Silver Bullet 2.0. If it were anyone else, we’d mock the stuffing out of ’em, but coming from Kid Rock, we know what to expect, and this is a big step up from crap like “All Summer Long”. The general mood about Born Free is to promote a feel-good summer vibe during this chilly time of year, a record to pop on and pop a top with friends over. Unfortunately, it’s as if Nickelback made an entire album of nothing but “This Afternoon” remixes. A little originality, please?
Two tracks off of Born Free include marketable and redeeming collaborations: a second tag-along by Sheryl Crow on “Collide”, and a double whammy by default country high-note Martina McBride and rapper T.I. on “Care”. While the Crow endeavor comes off pretty generic, “Care” is probably the best song on an effort that is otherwise strictly a series of bluesy tunes. Why? Everyone does their parts grandly, even guest pianist…Bob Seger?
Fuck my life.
Rock forces his notes through a scratchy sandpaper straw and a pseudo-garage rock counting off before every other song on Born Free, instead of relaxing himself as proven in songs like “Only God Knows Why”; Rock is a glorified MC who sang over a Lynyrd Skynyrd/Warren Zevon loop and called it a “sample”. Can you say “blatant rip-off”? Kid Rock went from mindless indulgences like “Three Sheets To The Wind” and a guest spot on ICP’s debut release, to making songs that would be justifiable go-to filler in your local dive’s jukebox. The Double Deuce wouldn’t have been caught dead with this garbage; blind white boys play better rock music. Even the all-star band behind Rock was held back, like having Rex Harrison recite lines from American Pie — there’s only so much you can do.
In the end, it comes down to one fact alone – I would rather hear “Her Strut” over and over, right after pardoning “Shakedown”, than go through this forgery again. If not for Seger and company’s contributions, the raspy out-of-water element that is Kid Rock would have been completely lost. I like to think Seger did his pieces at gunpoint, in a separate room. Now, who’s taking bets on whether or not T.I.’s bit role should be considered community service? Does he get out of jail early for such generous behavior?