Lynnrd Skynrd‘s Sweet Home Alabama had two things going for it (more than many songs): A riff to launch a thousand ships, and an authenticity that was carved into the song by both its lyrics and delivery. Its two-fingered salute to Neil Young was just part of it. This song stood on its own merits, and sneered that you could like it or leave it. And many have, in equal measure.
Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London is a different beast, albeit in the same key. His song, all tongue-in-cheek and barrelhouse boogie, had no pretensions to authenticity but was original as hell, and – like the Skynrd song – it provided a simple but elusive framework for countless jams and cover versions sine.
Kid Rock has created, if that’s the word for it, a slice of aural fan-fiction with his All Summer Long – which has become his biggest selling single to-date. He manages, with all the precision and craft of an accountant, to strip the above two songs of all their jagged edges, merging them together wrapped under a clingfilm wrap of studio-beats, and tired cliches to batten down any interesting faultlines.
He’ll claim, perhaps, to have introduced his own slant to the songs, but changing Alabama to Michigan in one line is hardly on a par with, say, moving Verona to Manhattan. He’s merely changed the names and dates of the story, missing the whole point on the way to the bank.
Kitsch is a difficult concept, and one rarely used in rock circles , but if you’re looking for an illustration of it, Kid Rock couldn’t be better. Milan Kundera, the Czech writer, defined Kitsch as ‘the absence of shit’, which is to say a piece of art that removes the vulgar trappings of life in favour of an idealised form. Calling All Summer Long art is pushing it, but it’s certainly idealised and polished to the point of removing any trace of humanity – and the paradox is that in cleaning things up so, he’s created bullshit.
One perfect example – the chorus, where he sings ‘we were trying different things, and smoking funny things’. Now, apart fromt he fact that it’s an appalingly uninventive couplet (best pointed out by Gladstone – “Kid, I know you’ve talked about mixing Hip-Hop, Rock and Country in your music, and you’ve succeeded, cause this rhyme sucks in any style of music”), it’s a clean, clear-cut example of going against the spirit of things. He’s walking the track-suited walk of a red-neck rocker, but singing the fluffy lines of a radio-controller keen to have all the bases covered without offending anyone.
Could you imagine Ronny Van Zandt singing ‘smoking funny things’. I think not.
All of which is a shame, because the one small shining light in this bastard mess is Kid Rock’s voice itself, which in the hands of a less polished production would be soulful. The boy can sing, but he just ain’t got the songs.
And yet it’s a huge hit. The reason is almost entirely down to the music of Zevon and Skynrd revamped for a generation that’s probably never heard of them. It’s a special moment when you hear the opening bars of either Sweet Home Alabama or Werewolves of London – shame, then, that for lots of kids out there the first time will be with this treated trash.