For anyone who’s ever found the studio output of Kid Rock a little too thoughtfully subtle, welcome to the live album. Thunderous, bombastic, derivative of about 80,000 other acts (for the love of Joe C., the cover is a font-by-font rip-off of Bob Seger’s Live Bullet record), and dumb as a box of functionally retarded hammers, Live Trucker is actually pretty solid fun, as long as you don’t mind the sense that you’re beating yourself in the head with a can of cold Milwaukee’s Best every last second you’re listening to it. Literally, I lost count of the number of fireworks explosions you can detect on this thing. Somewhere, Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons are both smiling in their graves.
Rock’s second-most-noteworthy release of the last few months (although one that, thank Jesus, is 100% Scott Stapp-free), Live Trucker was recorded over a multi-night stand in Rock’s native Detroit. And in case you don’t believe it, the cover comes emblazoned with a sticker saying that this album is full of live music by live musicians. This is actually a noteworthy development from a “long-haired, redneck, rock ‘n’ roll son of Detroit”, who started more like a skinny, dreadlocked rapper who dropped ludicrously clunky verses over Commodore 64 beats and hung out with tools like the Insane Clown Posse. Somewhere along the hip-hop line, Rock decided that his career as a rapper, which more or less consisted of him rhyming “trailer” with “failure” as many times as possible, was merely prologue to his true calling: Southern rocker. Er, from Detroit. So he put out 2004’s self-titled record, wherein he channeled ZZ Top, Seger and Bad Company, and that’s the guy that takes center stage on Live, even if most of the material comes from before that poor-selling effort.
Still, if Rock’s best quality is that he’s mindlessly appealing entertainment, his second-best quality is that he doesn’t cop to that first one so much as rejoice in it. Yes, Rock’s probably the only artist in the industry who, when some pinhead in the crowd yells “Free Bird!” obliges with a lack of irony that’d be less startling if you got the sense Rock knew that was sort of a joke. But debating the geographic consistency of Skynyrd disciple from Detroit is already thinking too much about the material contained herein; here’s a guy who steps on stage and directly announces, “I’m into Lynyrd Skynyrd, Run-DMC and DJ Scott La Rock” as if 1: The choogling beat and old-school rhymes hadn’t clued us in already and 2: He couldn’t have figured out some cleverer way to do that.
So here’s the paragraph where we talk about Rock’s music. “Bawitdaba”, against all pronunciation rules, works pretty well as an arena-rattling anthem. “Cowboy” gets a moody, three-minute intro in which Rock mocks current-events icons (dude, trashing Clay Aiken is so 2003) and Radiohead, ostensibly because they never did a cover of “Feel Like Makin’ Love”. There’s “Picture”, the twangy duet, lyrically obvious enough to make it a massive country radio smash, here starring redneck woman Gretchen Wilson instead of the record’s Sheryl Crow. The difference is… entirely unnoticeable, actually. Everything sounds efficient and weirdly professional, but then again, I’m at a disadvantage, not having a $9 plastic cup of warm Bud Light in my hands.
There are times — well, OK, there are a lot of times — when Rock’s unblinking stupidity becomes too overpowering (“Devil Without a Cause”, “American Bad Ass”). His jingoism (if you don’t like the US, he bravely argues, take your punk ass home) couldn’t be coming at a worse time, and we could all probably stand to take our cultural criticism of popsters like Madonna and Britney Spears from a guy who didn’t bang Pam Anderson. And come to think of it, Live Trucker is a poor substitute for the Rock live experience, which continues to include a tribute to the late Joe C that really must be seen to be believed. But if you love it loud, and don’t mind having to disengage the part of your brain that balances your checkbooks and keeps control of your motor functions, Live Trucker will do you just fine. As Rock’s apparent spiritual guide once said: “Turn it up.”