Anyone putting on Mitch Ryder's new album for a whiff of that old Detroit perfume is apt to be disappointed, because the general redolence here, while pleasant enough, is that of producer John Cougar's Main Street America chili dogs. Which is not to say that "Never Kick a Sleeping Dog" doesn't have a respectable percentage of meatiness and spice; but Cougar has applied his own (successful) formulas to Ryder's record with such a heavy hand that a lot of it ends up sounding like filler for one of his own albums.
Without question, the worst track here is Cougar's own "Rue de Trahir," a pointless, bathetic ballad that sounds like Garland Jeffreys on a real bad day. A much better bet is Ryder's gut-level reading of Prince's "When You Were Mine." And the kindest cut of all is Ryder's duet with fellow rock holdout Marianne Faithfull on Bill Amesbury's "A Thrill's a Thrill," which this one is. Not only are they singing from the same hymnal in the high church of low-culture sleaze, but their gravelly, vice-ravaged voices blend together like a couple of mezzo- banshees from Satan's own choir.
In terms of assertive individualism, that's all, folks. And the fact that Ryder sounds so indelibly, well, Ryder on another current release -- with Was (Not Was) on "Born to Laugh at Tornadoes" -- is further evidence that the fault must be laid at Cougar's door. It's a case of "produce thy teen heroes as thou wouldst have them produce thee"; or maybe the child is too strenuously father to the man. Could be it just wasn't such a swell idea to begin with.
MITCH RYDER -- "Never Kick a Sleeping Dog" (RIVA RVL 7503). Appearing Sunday at 8 at the Bayou.