Top critical review
Nothing to write home about
on November 18, 2002
There's nothing really "wrong" with Kid Rock's breakout album "Devil Without A Cause", but there isn't anything particularly wonderful about it either - especially when looked at with a few years of hindsight.
To begin with, Kid Rock himself is not an overly talented vocalist or rapper - both of which are roles he attempts to play on the CD. As the opening moments of "Bawitdaba" demonstrate, Rock is capable of screaming quite well, but the rest of the album features rather pedestrian vocal performances from all concerned. In fact, there are moments on some of the louder tracks where Rock is almost drowned out by the backing music provided by Twisted Brown Trucker.
On the quieter tracks, "Cowboy" being a classic example, Rock sounds overused and cliched in both his delivery and his subject matter. The "white trash" thing never really had that much in the way of legs, especially when combined with Twisted Brown Trucker's melting pot of metal, country and rock backing. The vast majority of the tracks on "Devil" are either party tracks - which don't sound any good without a party, and even tend to get a bit boring with a party - and "white trash" tracks - which are repetitive at best.
The exception to this rule is "Only God Knows Why". Through an effect-treated vocal, Rock delivers a performance which evokes quite a few country performers but doesn't sound identical to any of them. It appears that this track was written the morning after Rock and friends partied to celebrate his major-label deal - after which Rock realised that there were still a few more songs needed. The opening lines "I've been sittin' here/tryin' to find myself/I get behind myself/Need to rewind myself" earn considerable plaudits for taking the time-worn subject matter and expressing it in a new manner - sadly the only time this is really done on the album.
When Rock turns his hand to "message raps" such as "Black Chic, White Guy", he falls very flat indeed. The topic of inter-racial romance has been dealt with before and will no doubt be again, and by better-credentialled performers in both the rap and rock camps. Indeed, as I write, Ziggy Marley's "Lee and Molly" is playing in the background - a much cleverer and more perceptive look at the issue.
The final major problem with "Devil" is the appearance of the late Joe C. The man - who was in his mid-to-late 20s when he died but looked about 7 because of a congenital defect - was not a talented rapper at all (witness his waste of air time on the title track) and really only served to turn Kid Rock's live show into a freak circus. While this may have been the intention of either or both men, it raises the questions of exactly what Rock was trying to achieve in his shows (a freak show or a concert) and also exactly how aware Joe C was of this possible exploitation. Having seen the band (on TV) at Woodstock 99, I can safely say that more of the performance was taken up with the question of "what is WITH that guy?" than any enjoyment of the music being played.
The album is not all bad, however. If all you're looking for in an album is something to put on a stereo, turn up to maximum volume and drive the neighbours insane - then this is certainly a top contender. The strong beats on many of the party tracks also makes is quite handy to have in a car stereo for much the same purpose. The CD is also interesting from the point of view that there is no electric bass used in the recording. If you're after insightful rap about any of the topics addressed in the lyrics or music which will stay in your mind as music - rather than sound - then stay away.