It takes an impressive amount of confidence to create a concept album about what a jerk you are, and make no mistake, the ego-drenched meathead portrayed by Bob ”Kid Rock” Ritchie on his latest disc is one odious dude. Boastful and defensive, confrontational and thin-skinned, loud, rude, and proud of it, Kid Rock is a composite of blatantly unpleasant stereotypes sure to scare the neighbors: strutting ghetto pimp, Skynyrd-loving redneck, heavy metal burnout.
Throughout the cheekily titled Cocky, the Detroit bad boy insists on flaunting this dope-y, repellent persona. On the press: ”Trash me in the news, give me whack reviews, but you’ll never find another who can fill my shoes.” On fame and single parenthood (with a nod to Biggie Smalls): ”I wanna make money/To take away my problems/But my problems gettin’ bigger with the more money I make…I wanna spend time with my son, oh, every hour/But the money and the problems and the women keep me away.” On household help: ”I’m slapping my gardeners and f—ing my maids/Never mind my age, but if we’re takin’ numbers/15 million sold, motherf—er.” Apparently he thinks weed whackers won’t take that crap from a guy who’s moved a mere 5 million units.
It’s strange, then, that Kid Rock is actually one of pop’s more likable stars. Rock & roll is littered with beloved creeps, of course, but it takes a sort of odd genius to flaunt boorish behavior with such good-natured panache. Perhaps it’s the welcoming vibe of the stoner utopia conjured throughout his albums.
Anyone willing to chug Buds, smoke pot, and salute the flag can find a place in Rock’s unexpectedly optimistic dreamworld, where the sleaze nation commingles in a warped fantasy of pan-trash peace and harmony. Imagine there’re no bar brawls; it’s easy if you try…
Or maybe it’s just that his music is so much fun. Kid Rock’s 1998 10-million-seller, ”Devil Without a Cause” — and especially its irresistible singles ”Bawitdaba” and ”Cowboy” — was a spectacle of aggression and energy, an inspired blast of thrilling manic overkill that made him a superstar. ”Cocky” offers a similar blend of low-rider hip-hop and strip-mall heavy metal, flavoring its Camaro-ready jams with the occasional turntable wika-wika, Steven Tyler yowl, or tasty guitar lick (even, at one point, a snippet of ”Freebird”). But even at its best, as on the statement-of-purpose first single, ”Forever” (”I make Southern rock and I mix it with the hip-hop, got money like Fort Knox, I’ll forever be the Kid Rock”), the gloriously obnoxious title track, and the filthy bonus cut, ”WCSR,” featuring Snoop Dogg, the album comes off like a still-thrilling but less fresh take on ”Devil.” It’s the competent, familiar work of someone who loves what he does but no longer feels he has much to prove.
That complacency is particularly apparent in ”Cocky”’s lyrics, and Rock’s often lame rhymes and limp jabs at his labelmates won’t impress fans of that other Detroit rapper. ”I’m the illest fool, cooler than the water in a swimming pool,” he raps on the title track. ”Fly like a seagull, kickin’ like a mule, more jams than the Beatles from Liverpool… Got more money than matchbox twenty, get more a– than Mark McGrath… It ain’t braggin’, motherf—er, if you back it up.”
Actually, it is, but the boasting would seem less egregious if Kid Rock had a better braggin’/backin’ up ratio. Too much of ”Cocky” meanders into boring stylistic experiments. ”Picture” is a sappy duet with rumored former squeeze Sheryl Crow. ”Midnight Train to Memphis” is a puzzling MOR-country exercise that even Kid Rock realizes is a stretch. (”He’s putting me to sleep,” a disembodied voice sneers halfway through. ”Nudge me if he gets over 5 decibels. I knew his first album was the good one.”) The unforgivably titled ”Lonely Road of Faith” is a power ballad that includes the line, ”I believe we can make it through the winds of change.” Hey, if it’s good enough for the Scorpions…
Still, Kid Rock’s tear-down-the-walls ideal of a world where rappers can sip whiskey with rednecks is a compelling fiction, and if the cross-pollinated musical results aren’t always as exciting as the conversation no doubt would be, you have to at least admire the breadth of his vision. ”I drank with Hank, talked blues with Billy, rocked with Run, sang with Shotgun Willie,” he raps on ”You Never Met a Motherf—er Quite Like Me,” referring to Hank Williams Jr., ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Run-DMC’s Joseph Simmons, and Willie Nelson, respectively. To paraphrase country rebel and Kid Rock fan David Allan Coe, if that ain’t rock & roll, I’ll kiss your ass.