When it comes right down to it, what Kid Rock attempts is kind of tricky: he's trying to create new classic rock, songs to compete with Skynyrd and Seger as the soundtrack of choice for jukeboxes and pickup trucks across the country. This is the sound of the white-trash, downriver rocker in him coming through, triumphing over the jive rapper who brought him his fame. It was there even when he was aping the Beastie Boys and yodeling in the canyon, but once the country-rock of "Picture" revived the sales of the flagging Cocky, he put all his chips on classic rock, beginning with 2004's eponymous platter, a good record without a single hit single. That lack of a hit was enough to scare Kid, to strip away his few lingering subtleties and turn out an album as big, bold, and brainless as 2007's Rock N Roll Jesus. Apart from a drum loop here and a chanted bridge there, this is classic white-trash rock through and through, but where his heroes were creating a blueprint, Kid Rock is doggedly following their path, and he won't ever let you forget it, either. He name-drops relentlessly, steals songs titles from both Alabama and Billy Squier, cribs rhyme schemes from Seger and melodies from Elton John ("Blue Jeans and a Rosary" is straight out of "Levon"), adopts John Fogerty's fake mushmouth Southern accent for his obligatory Big Easy salute, "New Orleans," and pays homage to Back in Black with his cover art. He works hard to evoke the ghosts of the past, hoping that all his allusions will give him classic rock cred by association, when it only winds up underscoring the distance between him and his heroes. Nowhere is this truer than on "All Summer Long," a spin on "Night Moves" built entirely upon the chords from "Werewolves of London" with a slight lift from "Sweet Home Alabama" on the chorus, which only brings to mind how much better those three songs are than this mash-up.
Kid Rock's problem on Rock N Roll Jesus is two-fold: his music is so cluttered with comforting clichés, it plays like music for a theme restaurant, and his words fall flat. Of the two problems, the music isn't as serious: splashy and silly though it may be, at least it gets the basic sound right, even if it's way too polished and precise. Kid chases after shopworn riffs without ever reworking them or infusing them with enough spirit to make them his own; they just lie there, crushed beneath the weight of classic rock history. Nor does he goose his conventional chords with his signature ribald humor, which perhaps is the most shocking and notable thing about Rock N Roll Jesus: he's lost all of his verbal facility, to the point where he can no longer tell a dirty joke. It's as if by leaving rap behind, he's also discarded any claims at being clever. The man who once saluted all his heroes in the methadone clinics now just lazily spits out profanities and rhymes "things" with "things," telling lowlife tales so generic they feel invented. It's not that his topics are tired -- easy sex is as timeless a topic for rock & roll as true love -- but he's no longer inhabiting a role, he's acting it, which makes his tawdry tales not only cheap, but disposable. There's one exception to this rule and that's his nasty, clumsy David Allan Coe-styled kiss-off to ex-wife Pamela Anderson, "Half Your Age," the one song that is truly steeped in the dirty grit of real life. It may ring true, but it's so mean-spirited, it strips him of any residual roguish charm -- and when a rogue loses his charm, he just comes across as a prick, as Kid Rock does on Rock N Roll Jesus.