By BRIAN McCOLLUM
Detroit Free Press
DETROIT -- Kid Rock, it turns out, was itching for a little more Kid Rock.
In 2010, the Detroit musician took a marked detour with "Born Free," which saw him turning 40 and trying a more pensive brand of Midwest rock.
But the biggest departure came with the mindset: relinquishing control. Kid Rock, the self-made star and musical perfectionist, had handed the reigns -- and veto power -- to producer Rick Rubin.
With the self-produced "Rebel Soul," due Monday, Rock is back in a comfy spot -- "mixing stuff together, doing the genre-hopping, just being myself.
"That's always been the most fun for me, since my early records," says Rock. "As much as I loved 'Born Free,' and learned so much doing it, it was more a representation of where Rick Rubin saw me going. Not where I saw myself. I just like being me."
Rock is quick to emphasize that he loved the Rubin experience. The two remain close friends, and Rock says he could even see them pairing again down the road.
"Rebel Soul," in Rock's go-to description, is "a greatest-hits album of new songs," an amalgam of Southern rock (the title track), red-white-and-blue salutes ("Let's Ride"), slinky hip-hop ("Cucci Galore") and a hometown tribute ("Detroit, Michigan"). Festive and upbeat, it finds Rock in a more optimistic frame of mind -- one he retains even in the wake of defeat for Mitt Romney, the presidential candidate he backed with several campaign performances.
" 'Born Free' was a reflection of the times -- the economy, everything going on in our city and all over the world, really," he says. "Now it seems there's some sort of feeling of hope and relief and just ... you know what? We're going to put it behind us, we're going to work hard, and when I come to town, we're going to have a good time. That's what my hope is."
It may be hard to grasp in a town where he seems omnipresent, but 2012 was one of Kid Rock's most low-profile stretches in years.
His absence from big Detroit concert stages was very much calculated by Rock and his team, alert to the threat of oversaturation. After years of summer shows and stadium spectaculars, 2012 was a time to let the hometown market breathe, says Rock, citing what he calls "the oldest trick in show business: "Always leave 'em wanting more."
You get the sense he also just needed a break. Rock says his grand productions are physically and mentally taxing before he even steps onstage.
"I put so much into those Detroit shows, even my birthday and stuff like that," he says. "The hours I spend pulling my hair out ... it's just hard work. Which I'm not afraid of. But it was kind of like, 'You know, I've worked very hard. Just chill for a summer.' "
He's already back in hair-pulling mode, booked to perform Thursday at halftime of the Detroit Lions' Thanksgiving game, where he'll play the new "Detroit, Michigan." Rock vows something even bigger than his 2010 show at the same event, which featured 1,000 extras.
"This stuff doesn't just happen. It's a lot of mornings waking up early and tossing in bed, running through it in your mind and trying to get it to execute," he says. "When you see this Thanksgiving production, it's not like a band just coming out and playing."
"Rebel Soul" is Rock's seventh studio album with Atlantic Records, and probably will follow the others to platinum status. But despite all his success, Rock still regards himself as a maverick fighting for his way, two decades after learning the music-biz ropes with his Top Dog operation in a Royal Oak, Mich., basement.
He blasts the music establishment for "being so scared to try something different," reliant on market research and spreadsheet reports. Rock seeks room to maneuver.
Tour details are expected in coming days, and Rock says he'll spend 2013 "hitting it hard all year" on tour after kicking off Feb. 1.