The funniest thing about the cover of Kid Rock’s new album Rebel Soul is the parental advisory sticker on the cover. Hey, remember those? Those stickers peaked around 1998, just about the same time that Rock and Eminem were fighting their legendary battle to integrate hip-hop into white America. Turns out hip-hop itself was the big loser in the long run, but if you spend your time around rednecks these days, you may have noticed that they love classic rock, dirty south hip-hop, and new country pretty much equally – when the blues died, classic rock replaced it as the roots music of suburban white kids. Kid’s still honoring two of those traditions, but now that rap-metal is also dead and buried he doesn’t have to prove he’s hard anymore, so he’s going back to his roots with sort of a Skynyrd-meets-Stones type of thing with a little extra twang — blues chords, countryish harmonies, gospel backup. Add in those Exile on Main Street horns, and he wanders into Aerosmith’s ’80s backyard; also turns out Eminem’s not just “blacker” than Kid Rock, he’s also more Detroit.
Kid’s got soul, though; the Rebel Soul track “Detroit, Michigan,” which otherwise sounds like a commercial, name-checks Motown left and right without mentioning Iggy Pop once. So even if the new album is dad-rock and distressingly lightweight — the happiest, bounciest song here goes “Let’s get shitfaced, let’s get shitfaced, let’s get in trouble” — you can still enjoy its retro-lite moves, done up with an agreeable sort of indie-rock sheen. The opener, “Chicken in the Pen,” comes on like a stomper, but it mostly just bounces, with Kid stopping in the middle to croon a double-tracked “Baby, let me love you, let me take you higher.” The desperate growl of a man who’s used to having his desires satiated on demand, or a slightly drunk uncle nuzzling your aunt at the barbecue? You decide.
This is the guy who took crass crossmarketing to a new level with “Bawitdaba,” though, so his new pop moves are also infectiously ballsy, just in a subtler way. “Let’s Ride” sports a chorus so airbrushed that the verses’ AC/DC chords come off even tamer than they are, but it’s a better summer song than was the lazy mash-up of “All Summer Long.” If “God Save Rock N Roll” and “Mr. Rock N Roll” sound more like phony new-country raveups than real rock, complete with endless classic-rock references, well, they’re still a cheesy kind of fun. The three ballads here don’t quite reach that AutoTuned “Tuesday’s Gone” height of “Only God Knows Why,” but the reflective “The Mirror” almost sounds like his bid for a 808s & Heartbreak-style hit. So, no, there’s nothing actually rebellious about Rebel Soul, but if you think of “Rebel” as a brand name, well, it’s one of the more effective cross-promotional events of the year.
Impact: 52. “Detroit, Michigan” talks about the past like it’s the present, which is appropriate on so many levels.
Innovation: 58. Like Alice Cooper, who also made it through the Motor City, Kid’s facility with crossgenre experiments is impressive.
Integrity: 62. “Rebel Soul” is more descriptive of his musical hybrid than his actual personality. Got you, didn’t he?
Evens guitarist and vocalist Ian MacKaye – yes, that one, the DIY DC legend behind Minor Threat and Fugazi — is probably one of the last remaining punks to realize that their culture war’s already been won, which is probably also when he realized he could afford to turn the volume down and have everybody still get the point. Thus was born The Evens, a literal musical marriage of MacKaye and another DC postpunk scenester, the Warmers’ Amy Farina.
Like a lot of people who get married and settle down, that also meant having kids, which is where the couple’s been for the past six years, but except for some slightly more playful lyrics, it’s hard to see how that major life event has affected them: the band still gets its juice from the combination of Ian’s Danelectro baritone guitar, his wife’s economical but occasionally startling drum work, and the sexiest vocal interplay in punk since X hung it up. And the Evens remain effective because they agree on two things: that quietness can be menacing, and that a good hook can go anywhere.
“Wanted Criminals,” for example, is based mostly on the lyrical theme “Everybody’s got badges, but they got no one to apprehend,” set off by a quiet firestorm of guitar pyro, and yet it wouldn’t cause, say, a Walkmen fan to turn his head; it insinuates its point rather than slamming it home. “Warble Factor” is downright inscrutable, stopping and starting dramatically to frame the words “Look at the ants go / Look at the ants go / I think those ants know.” “Competing With the Till,” given its title, should be the album’s loudest anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian call to arms, but it sounds like nothing so much as a gentle blues-folk workout in a coffeehouse, albeit with Farina’s semi-explosive punctuation.
Maybe that’s the key to understanding the Evens and their place in the world circa 2012; no less committed to their ideals than ever before, they understand that punk is where the folk ethic went to thrive, and like any good folk duo, they evoke nothing so much now as a freethinking (not hipster) couple looking to raise their brood outside of the madness of the tribe. “Your charge is not to be crazy,” Farina sings on the very Fugazi-like “The Other Thing,” and while it’s tempting to read things into family acts, it’s not impossible that the Evens have stopped fighting the world and started working on their own little corner of it. Leading by example, certainly, but always keeping one eye on the evil.
Impact: 75. Don’t worry, Ian still plays it the same, he just turned it down.
Innovation: 78. They do “quiet punk” better than anyone since P.J. Harvey.
Integrity: 90. This is a personal, daily sort of riot.