Is the mainstream officially out of ideas or have we been validated?
Total disclosure: I have not heard either of the two albums I will be talking about. I have listened to the singles from the albums and read some reviews from authors and publications I respect, but I haven’t heard them myself. And since I’m discussing the concepts and not the content, I really don’t think that’s necessary.
In 1993, Johnny Cash began recording with producer Rick Rubin. The release of this material created a trend that we are still seeing today. From Neil Diamond to Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp to Robert Plant, Tom Jones to Elton John, everybody seems to want a stripped-down roots-infused album these days. Up until now it seems to have been a purely underground trend, fashionable only to those who have no chance of mainstream success and those who have left their days of Top 40 success far behind them.
Enter Kid Rock and his latest album Born Free, produced by Rick Rubin. Best known for his early days as a Detroit rap-rocker in the mold of the Beastie Boys, Kid Rock has slowly been transitioning to mainstream rock and Nashville country. But now, with Born Free, he has released an entire album comprised of acoustic-based roots rock ballads à la Bob Seger that has no place whatsoever on today’s radio. At least it didn’t the last time I listened.
I’m fine with Kid Rock’s album. In interviews, he always acknowledges those who came before him and seems to have a genuine love for music beneath his ultra-cocky exterior. Maybe he will even be the gateway drug for a group of listeners fed up with the mainstream.
What I’m not OK with is a full-fledged ripoff, which is what it seems that “alternative” rock band My Chemical Romance has done. On the 22nd of this month, they released Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, a futuristic concept album about a rock band who are fighting the takeover of America with help from a disc jockey.
Wonderful concept, right? The only problem is that Shooter Jennings beat them to it back in March with Black Ribbons, a concept album featuring Stephen King as a disc jockey playing the one band “they” don’t want him to play on his last broadcast before the government takes over the airwaves.
So is the mainstream completely out of ideas or are they finally catching up with us? Or is it a little of both? Either way, I’ll stick with the originals over second-rate ripoffs, but I’ll gladly welcome Kid Rock into the Americana community if his music fits and is good enough. Which remains to be seen.