Let’s start with the obvious: “Let It Rock” is one monster of a single.
Built on a simple synth-lick, boisterous rock guitars, and a catchy-as-hell chorus, “Let It Rock” is a defiantly disposable anthem that retains its impact with multiple listens. It’s a remarkable achievement given that singer Kevin Rudolf not only wrote it himself, but he also produced it and played all the guitar parts on it by his lonesome. Though Lil’ Wayne’s verse shows that perhaps guesting on rock songs isn’t his forte (as evidenced by his appearance on Fall Out Boy’s latest), it’s still one of those gloriously innocuous pop singles that you can listen to years down the line without feeling guilty at all.
The same, however, cannot be said for the rest of Rudolf’s debut, In the City.
Though Rudolf built up his name by playing on rap/pop tracks for some time (Timbaland, Nelly Furtado, etc.), the lyrical output he presents us with is one that’s remarkably bitter in regards to the trappings of fame and celebrity. “In the city of dreams / You get caught in the schemes / And fall apart in the seams” Rudolf warns on “N.Y.C.”, wherein Nas stops by to say pretty much nothing (“Michael Bloomberg / Forget what you heard”) and Rudolf spends the rest of his time detailing the wasted lives of uninteresting characters heading to the Big Apple in hopes of fame and/or notoriety. Later, on “Welcome to the World”, Rudolf insists in his grammatically incongruous way that “You got your pop star / I’ll be your rock star / When it’s a suicide / You call it ‘superstar’”, as if self-martyrdom somehow implies immediate celebrity. As if that wasn’t clumsy enough, Rudolf even drops a tepid Wizard of Oz analogy on “No Way Out”:
Switch got me caught up in a twister
I’m skippin’ on down that yellow brick road
I said to the Tin Man ‘Sorry, can’t help ya
They ripped my heart out a long time ago’
Now I feel like a-cowardly a-lion
I wanna break out but I’m paralyzed
The yellow bricks lead me straight to the wizard
He said ‘It’s all your state of mind’
Yet for such a dark look at American tabloid-culture, Rudolf, somehow, feels that he’s above it all. Though he promises that he’ll make us “come alive” during “Let It Rock”, Rudolf actually goes one step further by pompously opening the disc with the lines “Every day I’m a star in the city / Walk the streets like a wanted man / All the time got my shine looking’ pretty / Motherfuckers all know who I am.” If Rudolf was presenting this all as an analogy of some sort, the lyrics would be a bit easier to swallow, but—as it is—there’s no other conclusion to be reached except for one: Kevin Rudolf thinks he’s a bigger star than he actually is, and how dare you think otherwise.
On a musical basis, Rudolf’s formula is simple: find a simple set of chords, repeat it for the duration of the entire song, and use loud rock guitars to differentiate between the chorus and the verses. There is very little musical variation beyond the template that “Let It Rock” sets up, as most songs simply ride by on their simple, basic hooks, all while Rudolf peppers each track with his sub-Zeppelin guitar noodling. What’s worse is that the album’s token acoustic tracks (“I Song” and “Scarred”) sound exactly the same, using the exact same tempo, the exact same strum pattern, and a majority of the exact same chords. Side by side, there are notable differences: but when playing the album straight through, it sounds as if In the City has accidentally lapped itself.
If anything, Rudolf does show promise beyond that of just a simple studio session man. He has some solid ideas and keen sense of production; the problem is that his solo songs, by and large, suffer from a frightening lack of creativity and a remarkably shallow lyrical outlook. “Let It Rock” is a hit and deservedly so: it’s an fantastic club jam that endures countless replays with ease. Unfortunately, the formula doesn’t work when spread out over the course of a whole disc, but give Rudolf time—he’ll figure out what he’s doing eventually.
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