John Mellencamp - Life, Death, Love And Freedom

2008-12-05 10:39
Usually songs are either quite catchy and memorable, or (frankly) fairly crap. But Life Death Love and Freedom is that rare album full of tracks that are beautiful in and of themselves while really shining as part of this collection … this even more rare thing: an album that's memorable as a whole, and not much use when picked apart.

To make this record, Mellencamp has done two things. Firstly, he's returned to his deepest roots, the way Bruce Springsteen did a couple of years back with Devils 'n Dust and Ryan Adams never needed to do, and he's hired T-Bone Burnett to ensure it sounds as real as it really is.
He's also admitted how his bitter feelings about being that guy who, when most living people do remember him, they mainly recall the fact that he changed his last name to something more annoying each week. If you disagree, hum one of his songs (I had to go look one up on Wiki).

Once upon a time John was a charting rock star, who people would call out to in the streets. Now he's writing passive-aggressively (well, maybe), telling his wife and kids to give him a quiet funeral in a cheap box on "If I die sudden". He's slating an America that's lost its soul in "Troubled Land". On "John Cockers" he vents the lonely moments in life when you wonder: "Are these friends real? Who am I to them? In fact, who the hell am I?"

Sounds depressing, but it's not. Like all the best blue-blooded proponents of Americana, John Mellencamp's actually much better when he's bleak. That's because this kind of Americana is for and about ordinary people - it's not about being a rich rock star with a guitar-shaped swimming pool. Love Death Life and Freedom, unlike the impure pop-chart home runs that made him famous, is something worth remembering John by when he's gone.

In the meantime, from the romantic doom of the opening "Longest Days" to the sweetness of "Brand New Song", this album is a reminder of what we've all got to lose: "Sometimes you get sick / and you don't get better / Life is short / even in its longest days."

- Jean Barker

Some things get better with age and relative obscurity. John Mellencamp is one of those things.

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