Despite his assertions that he was "going platinum" throughout the title track of Devil Without a Cause, nobody expected Kid Rock to sell 7,000 copies of his fourth record, let alone 7,000,000. This was a guy who was pretty much considered a joke (if he was considered at all) ever since the 1990 release of his sub-Beasties debut, Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast. College radio veterans tell tales of being inundated with copies of the CD, receiving so many free copies that they eventually ran out of ways to destroy the promos. So, when the Kid returned with Devil Without a Cause in 1998, nobody outside of his hardcore Detroit partisans expected him to make much of an impact.
As it turns out -- and doesn't it always turn out this way -- the intelligentsia really didn't have a clue about Kid Rock, since they hadn't been paying attention. Despite a near-universal lack of support, he did not give up; he just kept plugging away, eventually developing a rather unique blend of white-boy rap, Detroit rock & roll, and metal posturing. It was as if David Lee Roth was raised a white-trash rapper and had a dirtier, funkier band than Van Halen. It was totally unpredictable, especially at the tail end of a decade dominated by humorless grunge and doom metal. It was a blast of raw, fun, and very, very hard rock, topped off with a surprisingly witty sense of humor.
Devil Without a Cause was so good it caused everybody to re-evaluate Kid Rock, including Rock himself. As he was prepping a follow-up, he decided to buy time with a compilation of his older recordings, many of which were unknown and out of print. That album became The History of Rock, a hodgepodge of new songs, unreleased tunes, demos, old cuts, and re-recordings of his decade-long journey to stardom. Releasing an odds and sods collection as a sequel to a career-making blockbuster may look like a scam; it's sort of an ingenious move, since it not only buys the Kid time, but it also gives him a chance to revamp a past that was bordering on the seriously lame. According to The History, Rock always knew what he was doing. As anybody who heard The Polyfuze Method knows, that's not the case, but that's the beauty of The History; here, he makes his unfocused early stuff of a piece with Devil Without a Cause. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's just as good. It isn't nearly as good, but that's sort of an unfair comparison, since this is flotsam and jetsam, and Devil wasn't just the best of Rock, it was the best hard rock album of the last quarter of the '90s. This delivers some of the same thrills -- mainly because the band hits harder and funkier than any of its rap-rock peers, and Rock now has a fully cultivated persona that really is worthy of stardom -- but it just doesn't compare because the songs aren't there. Consider this: the best song is "American Bad Ass," a shameless slab of self-mythology where the former Bob Ritchie calls out tag-lines from Devil and places himself in the company of Seger, the Beasties, and No-Show Jones, all to a sample of Metallica's "Sad but True." Cool, more or less, but not as monumental as "Bawitdaba," which had true wit, original riffs, and a sense of purpose. In other words, "American Bad Ass" has the sound but not the substance. But, once you've worn out Devil and you need a new fix, you're not going to find it on the older Kid Rock albums -- you're going to find it here. That may be enough for some listeners, even if the songs themselves -- apart from the "Get Out of Denver" rewrite "Born 2 B a Hick," "Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp," the funky "3 Sheets to the Wind" and maybe the Skynyrd-aping "Prodigal Son" -- never really make much of an impact. Most importantly, perhaps, The History of Rock accomplishes everything Rock set out to do -- it buys him time while enhancing his persona. It might not make for a great listen, but its swagger and white-trash style make it the second-best record in his catalog. Mild praise, of course, considering that everything besides Devil Without a Cause just isn't very good, but at least with History there's another platter in his catalog that's worth a spin. [The History of Rock was also released in a "clean" version, containing no profanities or vulgarities.]