Kid Rock: Born Free

RIYL: Bryan Adams, Bob Seger, Glenn Frey

It still hardly seems possible to those of us who remember the gleefully profane, barely conscious persona he cultivated with his first four albums (including his 1998 breakthrough Devil Without a Cause), but Kid Rock has somehow become the heir apparent to Bob Seger’s Motor City rock ‘n’ roll throne. In fact, modern rock is such a graveyard that Rock is damn near an elder statesman of the genre – the kind of artist who routinely draws fawning reviews from Rolling Stone, along with interviews where he’s given a forum to roll his eyes at Steven Tyler joining the judges’ table on “American Idol.” Actually, on that last count, Rock’s no guiltier than the rest of us. But you get the point – that stringy-haired honky rapper with the glassy-eyed stare and the fedora-and-wife-beater wardrobe was never supposed to grow up and give us songs like “Rock N’ Roll Pain Train,” “Rock N’ Roll,” “Rock N Roll Jesus,” and “Rock On.”

But here we are with Kid Rock’s eighth(!) studio album, the flag-wrapped Born Free, offering up a dozen mind-numbingly bland alternatives to actual old-time rock ‘n’ roll. If Seger’s classic records are as solidly unassuming as a cold can of Stroh’s, consider Born Free the equivalent of Natty Light – it’s cheap, and it’ll get the job done if you’re desperate enough, but it really should be better. Really, for the most part, this sounds a lot like an early ’90s Bryan Adams record – which is sort of fitting, considering that Adams’ Canuck take on heartland rock was just as counterfeit as this corny, Rick Rubin-produced collection of would-be anthems and motel ballads.

It feels strange to miss the guy who made songs as proudly brain-dead as “Bawitdaba,” but at least that song had balls and a dangerous vibe, however slight; these days, Rock’s gelded, commercial-ready music is slickly competent at best. On the Born Free album cover, he’s reclining in the back of a convertible, feet up on the seats, amber waves of grain in the background. You can’t tell that the car is rolling gently down the middle of the road, but you can definitely see that no one’s in the driver’s seat. (Atlantic 2010)

Kid Rock MySpace page


Butch Walker and the Black Widows: I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart

RIYL: Candy Butchers, Fountains of Wayne, Bryan Adams

Before he became as ubiquitous in the pop/rock music world as Kara DioGuardi and Diane Warren, Butch Walker was so totally cool. He fronted an indie modern rock band called Marvelous 3, a group that put out a few blistering albums of awesome power pop. Then Walker went out on his own and delivered one of the best rock albums of all time in Left of Self-Centered. Naturally, he started to get phone calls from other artists and labels and managers, wanting him to write with, produce and guide artists such as Pink, Bowling For Soup and Avril Lavigne. He also released a few more solo albums along the way. And while nothing measured up to Left of Self-Centered or the Marvelous 3 stuff, Walker has clearly taken two steps backward with his latest, I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart. Maybe it’s because this one comes a little over a year after his latest, Sycamore Meadows, because being that prolific has a tendency to water down the material. In addition, part of the problem here is that while some of the songs seem catchy while you’re listening, you won’t be singing any of them afterward, because they’re not memorable, at least not based on the very high bar Butch has set for himself. There are a few exceptions, like “Stripped Down Version,” which has some slick guitar work and pretty harmonies, or “She Likes Hair Bands,” featuring lyrical snark reminiscent of the Marvelous 3 days. But on the likes of “Trash Day” and “House of Cards,” some of you die-hard Butch fans will be hitting “skip.” And while the closer, “Be Good Til Then,” carries a beautiful sentiment and was written for his very young son, the repetitive melody is more tired than anything Walker has ever delivered. I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart, will, sadly, have Butch fans saying that they liked it better when his songs had heart. (One Haven 2010)

Butch Walker website