John Mellencamp Life, Death, Love and Freedom

Seems John Mellencamp is in a pretty pissy mood. His ill humour, however, lends itself to his latest release, a beautifully bleak meditation on the briefness of life and the sad state of the world. The disc starts off acoustic and spare but even when it builds to a tumult of distorted electric guitar it retains its subdued tone, with minor-key odes to a host of hopeless and hapless characters, and melancholic reflections on his mortality. The brooding tone of the collection is broken only once, by the galloping drums and cheery gospel harmonies of the second track, "My Sweet Love.” Producer T. Bone Burnett has polished each track to a dull, leaden sheen — from the haunting, reverb-laden, bluesy guitar noodling on "County Fair” to the portentous organs and mandolins that open the anguished elegy for America, "Without A Shot.” There’s a weary note in Mellencamp’s familiar, raspy voice on this collection. And though he occasionally strays into lyrically banal territory, for the most part, Mellencamp’s unflinching sincerity is affecting, as is his observation that "life is short, even in its longest days.” (Hear)