Saturday, August 30, 2008

John Wesley Harding Mellencamp

As the album title implies, a lot can happen when you're sitting next to a concrete wall staring off into space.

As part of my John Mellencamp recovery program, a few weeks back I downloaded his new album Life, Death, Love and Freedom. I've been playing it a lot to get a feel for this disc and found it to be a pretty enjoyable album. In a bit of a surprise, its a very folky album with a touch of acoustic blues as the Little Bastard (I remember my friend saying that's the nickname Mellencamp liked) explores the ideas as stated in the album title. So let's get down to it.

Life: For a lot of the album, Mellencamp views Life as a done deal. He's seen it's folk styled "Longest Days" and feels detached from other people in "John Cockers". At this stage, Life is about preparation for Death and bemoaning Freedom. With what Mellencamp seems to view his best days behind him, he prepares for the other three parts to the theme. The life he shows is a man who has some fight left in him but not enough to face the world head on until the end of the album where life and purpose are renewed.

Death: There is a major preoccupation with Death on the album. One of my favorite songs is in the middle of the album, "Don't Need This Body", finds Mellencamp in a sort of Robert Johnson hellhound blues mode as he explains he's ready for the next song. The next song is "A Ride Back Home" which is a second duet with the Little Big Town singer. "Ride" takes a soothing tone as he hopes for Death to come. A Death he hopes comes without warning in "If I Die Sudden".

Love: The lone happy song on the album is the rockabilly hit "My Sweet Love" which I like a lot. Elsewhere on the album, Love is the sweet part of Life that exists in the past. Mellencamp says he's loved people and they've loved him. A larger concern is the lack of Love he sees, "Troubled Land" is all about discontent among people while "Mean" people suck.

Freedom: Mellencamp is definitely disillusioned in this album. Having already made a splash with the earlier release of the protest song "Jena" in which he implores the town to "Take your nooses down", he places that same squinty eyed judgement on the rest of the country. American values become a dark and surreal place in "County Fair" as he eventually feels so compromised that we could be taken "Without A Shot". "Without A Shot" is another highlight on the album with its pensive mood and prickly mandolin.

Overall Life, Death, Love and Freedom holds together due to taut songwriting and a committed performance. Mellencamp ties up the loose ends with a message of hope in "For The Children" a third duet with Karen Fairchild (hey, I found her name!) of Little Big Town. He neatly sums up the album towards the end of the song "I hope you can be a child of life / With big dreams for everyone / And know that dying's as natural as birth / And our troubles here, they don't last long." I like this album and have a lot of respect for what it accomplishes. It's a strong set of songs with flashes of brilliance though the "heavy messenger" tone took some getting used to and it sounded eerily Dylanish in spots. Alright John Mellencamp, I have to admit you put out a good album. My name is Mr Mike and I am a recovering Mellencamp hater. And some where my old friend the Mellencamp fanatic is looking like the Emperor from Star Wars hissing "Exxceelent". Or is that Mr Burns from The Simpsons. I think it's Mr. Burns actually. D'oh!

John Mellencamp album EPK

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