By Shirley Halperin
Updated July 30, 2007 at 09:54 PM EDT
Credit: John Sciulli/

Brace yourselves, PopWatchers. Kid Rock is back with a new album, his first in four years, and it’s sure to raise some eyebrows.

EW was treated to an intimate listening session at Rock’s Malibu home last week. An invitation we really couldn’t refuse, especially when paired with dinner at Malibu staple Taverna Tony’s. (The Greek restaurant is a favorite of Jennifer Aniston’s and now I understand why: the tzatziki was fantastic!) It had the makings of one of those rare Hollywood nights that, for a former New Yorker like me, justifies moving out west in the first place. And sure enough, five beers (for Rock) and two cosmos (pour moi) later, I found myself riding shotgun in Rock’s classic American-made 1967 convertible something-or-other, roaring on down the Pacific Coast Highway like a scene out of Entourage.

addCredit(“Kid Rock: John Sciulli/”)

Upon arrival at Rock’s manse by the sea, he proudly told an audienceof six (myself, fellow EW writer Chris Willman, and a few influentialTV bookers) that this record, tentatively titled Rock-n-Roll Jesus,is his best yet. Then the artist formerly known as Bob Ritchie lit a cigar and let it rip, kicking off with thetitle track, an unabashed, AC/DC-informed rocker befitting theself-anointed American Badass. But as we soon found out, thesehard-driving riffs and fiery choruses were just a warm-up. Thestrip-club-ready “So Hot,” Rock’s chosen first single, turned out to bethe album’s unapologetic, sex-fueled tipping point. It’s all meant toremind the music-buying public that this is the guy who had to balls togo from middle-finger-waving rap-metal superstar to country crossoversuccess in just over five years, while at the same time selling around20 million albums. Not too shabby.

And true to the more sensitive side of Rock (I sure did love that”Picture” song), the album features a ballad, a bluesy ode to FatsDomino and “going down to New Orleans” (which, Rock was quick to pointout, could double as a metaphor for oral sex) and a God-loving anthemcalled “Amen.” To everyone’s surprise, including maybe his own, Rock’ssinging skills have definitely improved, resulting in only onerap-heavy song. But his bitterness towards ex-wife Pamela Andersoncertainly hasn’t, as was painfully obvious with the last track and itstwangy refrain: “She’s half your age, and twice as hot.” Ouch.

So what do you think of the return of Kid Rock, PopWatchers? Can he genre-hop his way to relevance in the year 2007? Discuss.