Sure, Ted Nugent is a right wing whackjob and he's about as subtle as the muscle car engines that introduce his sixteenth solo album or indeed the rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that closes it. He's a loud and obnoxious personality, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't rock. If you don't buy into that, just go check out Double Live Gonzo! and we'll talk. Songs such as Wang Dang Sweet Poontang are about as loud and obnoxious as he is but there are few ever released that rock much harder.
Sure, it would be easy to dismiss him into a right wing whackjob category with people like Kid Rock and that's fair on a single front, but only one. I didn't review Kid Rock's album, Bad Reputation, in March, because it's just awful, an embarrassment that should never be mentioned again, led by a cringefest of a single, Don't Tell Me How to Live, that beggars belief. This isn't. It's not Nuge's best but it's a rock 'n' roll record that doesn't embarrass anyone, least of all him.
And, of course, given how opinionated the man is, I should probably talk about lyrics before music. Surprisingly, they're not controversial at all, even if there are a few veiled references that we see through. We might look at song titles and cringe at their lyrical content in advance, like Come and Take It, Just Leave Me Alone and Feedback GrindFIRE, but there's nothing much to them. Mostly, I would call them generic and uninspired, as if Nugent simply didn't want this to be an instrumental album so had to come up with some words. Come and Take It has forty lines and over half of them are literally just the title.
Frankly, I'd have preferred this to be an instrumental album, because the best thing about it is the guitar. Nugent rarely unleashes his instrument and rips the way we know that he can, but he plays it well and in an interesting fashion throughout. In fact, he lets us wait for the blistering stuff, the WinterSpring SummerFall instrumental a real highlight but through subtlety rather than a gonzo genius. The wild guitar waits for Feedback GrindFIRE no fewer than ten songs in, one I'm sure he's going to absolutely blister through on stage, and it's still there on Star Spangled Banner to close things out. I wanted a lot more of the Motor City Madman and I didn't get it, but I see reasons why.
One is that Feedback GrindFIRE is the only vocal song here where the guitar truly plays a lead role in that it's higher in the mix than the vocals. On this one, those vocals are suitably wild too, mostly because I presume they're delivered by Nugent himself rather than his bassist, Greg Smith, who is a far more deliberate and controlled singer. He does a decent job and he's a better singer than his boss, but he feels out of place to me on a Ted Nugent album and he left me wondering if the guitar was more deliberate and controlled to complement his delivery.
And so this becomes a little underwhelming, even if the best, most raucous material is left for last and so makes us want to immediately start again to see if we misjudged it. But no, we didn't. It's a fair observation that the muscle cars in Detroit Muscle, one of two paeons to Nugent's hometown, are actually a sample of muscle cars, even though we know full well from Feedback GrindFIRE that he could have generated that sound in a far more interesting fashion from his guitar. To not do so was a deliberate choice and it underlines those first nine songs. He even gets a bit sentimental on Alaska and it doesn't work for me.
Of the pre-Feedback GrindFIRE songs, the most interesting to me are the ones that find a groove. Born in the MotorCity is another paeon to Detroit with banal lyrics but one that's performed as a blues song in ZZ Top style. That little old band from Texas do it better but it's neat to hear Nugent take on the groove. There's a southern rock undercurrent to Drivin' Blind, beyond the lyrical nod to Molly Hatchet and others, that's neat to hear too. They're decent, but it's the wild closing pair and the unusually introspective instrumental that I'd call out as highlights.