The Freak Parade

Just two years after Janet & Justin’s Super Bowl snafu — for which the FCC is still punishing blue-state libertines — we’re lucky to have an act as outré as Big & Rich headlining the Rose Bowl halftime show. On last year’s double-platinum Horse of a Different Color, “Big” Kenny Alphin and John Rich — linchpins in Nashville’s Muzik Mafia, a loose posse of freaky C&W mavericks that also includes Gretchen Wilson and Cowboy Troy — introduced what they call “country music without prejudice”: hard-riffing country-funk spiked with bubblegum choruses and slang borrowed from BET. Big & Rich’s goal was shaking up the Nashville establishment with some new-money panache, and shake it up they did. Take a listen to recent CDs by such Music City stalwarts as Brooks & Dunn and Brad Paisley and you’ll hear the duo’s influence in tips of the ten-gallon to gritty rap culture and NASCAR-dad bling.Comin’ to Your City (Warner Bros.), Big & Rich’s follow-up, begins with the promise that the duo haven’t broken their commitment to nonconformity: “Somebody’s got to be unafraid to lead the freak parade!” they announce over a dinky march beat that picks up sonic debris like a lint brush — mariachi guitar, ragtime piano, even noise-punk amplifier fuzz. Like Horse, Comin’ alternates between banjo-laden disco-twang stompers like the title track, where they big-up L.A.’s “freaks at Pink’s and 15-dollar drinks,” and more conventional ballads such as the soulful “Never Mind Me,” which I’d pay 15 dollars to hear Al Green or Babyface tackle.Considering the ephemeral nature of novelty, the audacity of Big & Rich’s approach is less pronounced than last time. And it’s worth noting that some of the best tunes here are the least flamboyant ones. But if we’ve got a chance in hell of seeing Nipplegate Part Deux, it’s with these boobs. Welcome to town, boys.

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