Hailing from the hip-hop city of Detroit, Grammy-nominated Kid Rock (real name Robert James Ritchie) is back with his 11th studio album, Sweet Southern Sugar. But will it go down as smooth as intended?
Having crossed musical genres like bridges for much of his career, Kid Rock’s recent sound has been hugely country-influenced for the past few years, but what direction will the new album take? A far cry from the Lynyrd Skynyrd rip-off (sorry, “tribute”) of “All Summer Long” that Kid Rock is potentially best known for (charting at No.1 in eight countries for weeks at a time) comes “The Greatest Show on Earth” as our opening track.
It is worth mentioning here that Kid Rock, if you were unaware, is anything but a one-trick pony when it comes to his musical style. Having started off as a primarily hip-hop artist before graduating on to rap-rock which saw him influence artists such as Eminem and Yelawolf, he then gradually moved through genres such as heartland rock, southern rock and country before landing with his current sound. That said, this opening song is a throwback to his rap-rock era with sampled lyrics, short sharp lyrics and simplistic guitars and drums to underline the flow of the vocals, and it is a welcome return to previous form.
However, this is not the only form we see him revisit. “Po-Dunk” was released as part of a trio of singles that Kid Rock released over this summer; and it couldn’t be more Southern if he drenched it in bourbon. Another single released over the summer and in the same Southern rock vein is “Tennessee Mountain Top”. Both are filled with lyrics of the love of home and homesickness as well as Southern imagery from girls in ripped denim shorts to drinking whiskey and even literal red necks.
Lilting away from Southern rock, we also hear more of Kid Rock’s recent foray into more traditional country in tracks like “Raining Whiskey” and “Back To The Other Side”. Both filled with heartache and vocally led with gospel backing, on a backdrop of minimalist steel guitar and pianos, it highlights an ability to turn his hand to several genres. With influences back from his deck-spinning days, “I Wonder” comes in the form of a clash of two musical genres. Filled with heavily synthesised percussion and bass, but melodically thrown together with a honky-tonk piano and Southern Stratocaster guitar, it’s asking for trouble. The song manages to pull it off, but not by the same margin as many of the other tracks on the record.
“American Rock ‘n Roll” unfortunately follows in the same vein of a lull in quality. It too, is not a bad track, but after such a blistering set of entry songs, it feels like almost like a filler track when lined up with the superior tracks on the album. Thankfully, these two songs are more of a blip than a sign of overall decline. As “Stand The Pain” comes on we’re given a rocky, balladic and almost poppy, countrified song that is made to chart. The somewhat ‘commercialised’ edge is no bad thing here and shows just how well polished and produced the Nashville-style production can feel.
As the penultimate track, we’re given a truly surprising cover from Kid Rock. “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” is actually a cover of “I Can’t Help Myself” by Four Tops – the karaoke bopper more known by the title used by Kid Rock. However, it couldn’t be further removed from its source. In Kid Rock’s hands it is turned into a shockingly heartfelt and intimate track, something I never would’ve expected from this song.
“Grandpa’s Jam”, our final track (jam as in music, not the fruity spread as it happens) is definitely the most nostalgic tracks of the album, sounding eerily similar to material from his 1998 album Devil Without A Cause. It serves to highlight that Kid Rock has picked up influences and genres like badges of honour and his ability to adapt across the scene.
Despite a couple of weak tracks, the album overall is very good work indeed and warrants a listen. If you want to hear it for yourself, drop into your local Richer Sounds demo room… you’ll have to bring your own Jim Beam, though.
Author: Steve, Southgate store