Sound — 7
The name Kid Rock conjures a number of responses. Of course, there are the nostalgic reminisces of his abrasive rap-rock days, where the apex album of that era, "Devil Without a Cause," brought forth catchy, guilty pleasure songs like "Bawitdaba" and "Cowboy" - a time that people can look back on with equal amounts sophomoric pleasure and utter contempt. Then there's the latter-era Kid Rock, which showed him parlay his polarizing rap-rock style into country music, quite possibly the most polarizing music genre in the world. Even more so, one could delve into his political views, where he endorsed the unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, as well as being eager in his disapproval of current president Barack Obama (more vocal than Dave Mustaine, but not as egregious as Ted Nugent).
It's not hard to see the pattern here. Kid Rock knows how to stand on the line between love and hatred, which takes a thick skin to thrive in for the twenty-plus years he's been making music - and taking that in stride has paid off. Those that are disgusted or dismissive of him are matched by dedicated fans of his, resulting in the majority of his albums achieving platinum status. And to go beyond the hate-it-or-love-it fork in the road of country music, Kid Rock does an alright job with it - after fully transitioning into country rock with 2007's "Rock n Roll Jesus," he's shown that he can play the role of earnest country singer (in the solemn-going "Born Free") as well as experimenter (in the genre-spanning "Rebel Soul").
However, it may have been the deviant nature of "Rebel Soul" that rendered it substantially less successful that Kid Rock's previous few albums (though that's not saying much; the album still achieved gold status). Evidently fueled by this outcome (Kid Rock had voiced his overall dissatisfaction with the album years after its release), Kid Rock's tenth album, "First Kiss," brings things back to the homeland of country music, and at this point, Kid Rock's got his composing style down to a science. Instrumentally, expect the usual tricks - from country guitar licks and subtle organ layers to descending piano glissandos, as well as increasing the presence of female backup singers (despite the strength they add to songs, it's pretty funny to hear them sing "f--k off and die" in all seriousness on "FOAD"). While the titular opening track is easily the best of this batch of country rock - stocked with good guitar parts as well as admirable bass activity - others fade into the nondescript background, like "Drinking Beer With Dad" and "Best of Me." "Johnny Cash" also deducts points due to its lead riff sounding similar to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," but on the other hand, at least it's not as bad as when Kid Rock actually sampled the classic in his earlier hit "All Summer Long."
Despite the unsung crux of homogenous sound in country music, "First Kiss" does a decent job painting nearly all of its tracks with a different shade. The rockier cuts on the album "Good Times, Cheap Wine" and "Ain't Enough Whiskey" travel from honky-tonk southern rock to roadhouse-evoking classic rock, respectively, then things are taken to the barn for a fiddle-addled hoedown in "Good Time Lookin' for Me," and then taken to the cathedral for the quasi-gospel ballad "Jesus and Bocephus," filled with organs and heavy reverb (though one would've expected to hear a full choir to truly lift the song into the heavens). And though it's not a big leap, "One More Song" gets the badge for most experimental, equipped with an ornate percussion ensemble, as well as a touch of dubstep-inspired bass swells that are tastefully contained.
Lyrics — 6
The lyrical matter of "First Kiss" contains nothing uncommon to the usual set of tropes seen in country music at large, but the bigger problem is that Kid Rock's lyric playbook here starts repeating itself. The proclamation of being a down-to-earth country guy in "Good Times, Cheap Wine" is generally the same as "Flyin' High" from "Born Free," or "Redneck Paradise" from "Rebel Soul," and the southern party anthem "Good Time Lookin' for Me" paints the same kind of picture as the "Born Free" track "Rock Bottom Blues." It's safe to bet that the heartache song "One More Song" and the post-breakup animosity of "FOAD" are about Kid Rock's bitter experiences with his ex-wife Pamela Anderson, whom he's written plenty of songs about before, and he's still paying plenty of tribute to his musical forefathers - from remembering Tom Petty on the radio in "First Kiss" to ham-handedly giving thanks to Hank Williams, Jr. in "Jesus and Bocephus."
Though he's written about the joy of past times before, the cases where he does that in "First Kiss" are easily the tracks that stand out the best lyric-wise, due to them painting the most personal and evocative pictures. "First Kiss" has Kid Rock reminiscing of the simple pleasures of being a teenager, lamenting the harsh reality of having to grow up, but "Drinking Beer With Dad" praises the other side of that coin of adulthood, cherishing the moment when his father deemed him an adult by having a beer with him.
Overall Impression — 7
Kid Rock may wish that he could nix "Rebel Soul" from his discography, but frankly, the dynamic between that album and the back-to-basics mentality of "First Kiss" is what ultimately helps "First Kiss" sound fresh in Kid Rock's catalog. As too much of the same thing saturates itself into tastelessness, "First Kiss" jumps back into stark country rock at the right time, and though it's been heard before, it proves once again that Kid Rock knows how to make country music well.