Kid Rock‘s 11th studio album, Sweet Southern Sugar, is affirmation of what the pop world has known all along, that age will not be kind to Kid Rock. With only ten songs on the docket he revisits all the trashy stylings that launched him to fame over a quarter-century ago. What’s missing, however, is the timing of the moment and most importantly, the moxie; he’s no longer the Southern Rebel of old. Revisiting a dated sound only magnifies his disconnect, and by the end it’s unsure where he can go other than down.

The glaring hole in Sweet Southern Sugar is consistency. On one end he’s loading his shotgun pining to be an ‘American Badass’ and on the other he’s packing his corncob pipe trying to be a benevolent uncle, which isn’t a totally alien place for him to be. But with such a small sample size the bandying back and forth between the two ideas reads as inauthentic and contrived. In the few moments where he sounds comfortable he’s embracing his place as a fading star. But just as a new avenue of expression is about to emerge he beelines it for the corner bar and soils any chance at refinement.

Greatest Show on Earth

The audible equivalent to NASCAR, a greasy hodgepodge of carney ramblings and cheap beer. It’s decidedly Kid Rock in that it melds all those trashy elements into a marketable sound. The anthem is not too different from what is emanating throughout hip-hop, which is taking hateful energy and turning it into a strength. He’s ready to ignite, vintage arena rock from a pop underdog: [LISTEN]

Po Dunk

If Walmart ever needed an anthem this would be it, sleazy bargain bin rock that embraces the worst of the South. The thrashing guitar is smoke pouring out of a shot exhaust, and the noise pollution is enough to make a person vomit for days. He’s playing to every stereotype in the book, painting southerners as toothpick wielding hayseeds who look at Jeff Foxworthy like he were Malcolm X: [LISTEN]

Tennessee Mountain Top

A simple twang of the guitar and Kid Rock is sent light years into the past. He’s admiring the view from his backyard and glad he isn’t in Hollywood anymore. The fresh mountain air is filling his lungs and all that he could ever want is sitting right in front of him. It’s overly nostalgic, and fits right in line with his love for his hometown. He’s proud, but pride in excess is vain: [LISTEN]

I Wonder

A clear cut ode to Prince, from the way Kid Rock tickles the guitar to the highly polished synth work. The pairing of styles is awkward and has him scrambling for ideas that are beyond his reach. He’s yearning for love, and the longer he is away from it the more pain he’s in. Loneliness is consuming every fiber in his body, and with no one to soothe his aching heart he breaks out into song: [LISTEN]

American Rock ‘N Roll

Embracing straight country, and sounding at ease while doing it. Since he’s not screaming over a grimy guitar, he can let his mind settle into something more down to earth. The slower pace suits his 46-year-old creative legs well, and it’ll be a proper style to carry him into his twilight years. The acoustics are warm and tender, and as easy going as a humid summer night in the country: [LISTEN]

Back to the Other Side

The grandfather side of Kid Rock emerges; beard gray, fire roaring and pipe fully packed. With a bit of bitterness in his voice he’s condemning a world where love is no longer the foundation. He’s angry and fed up, and wants the masses to reconnect with what’s most important. It’s campy, but a side of Kid Rock that sounds appropriate for his age; coming off as the Chuck D of country rock: [LISTEN]

Raining Whisky

Safe, knee-slapping folk from a pop star who can’t tell left from right anymore. The acoustics are shimmery and the polished vocals have him sounding like a well manicured country preacher. His heart has been broken in two and a deep depression has sunk in. The only thing that can soothe his sorrows is whiskey and it’s raining in from above in barrels. Heartbroken and drunk, classic Kid Rock: [LISTEN]

Stand the Pain

Fist pumping and anthemic, a feel-good pick me up not worth two-cents. The beat is a standard jukebox throwaway, one that’s filtered into every Dave & Busters across the nation. The message is still positive which is a good look for Kid Rock. Where it fails is his ability to attach anything to it other than safe platitudes. He’s running right down the middle with nothing at stake: [LISTEN]

Sugar Pie Honey Bunch

A crappy cover of a song that has no business being covered. It’s as classic as apple pie, which means that any attempt at changing the recipe is done so in vain. He tries to infuse a shot of country, but isn’t committed enough for it to make a difference. He’s toeing the line and putting nothing up as an opening bid. The reluctance is in direct contrast to the image he’s always portraying: [LISTEN]

Grandpa’s Jam

A flimsy way to close out a weak album. He’s playing the old man card hard, preaching the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mentality. Retirement is on the horizon and he’s stumbling across the finish line like a drunk hillbilly. It’s tasteless and lacks the integrity that a vet should walk with. The beat is an amusement park ride, a lot of show but nothing in the way of real thrills: [LISTEN]