Because Songs Matter

JOHN MELLENCAMP – LIFE, DEATH, LOVE, AND FREEDOM

I remember reading an article back when I started ninebullets.net that asked “Why are no blogs being written about the new Elton John album?” The gist of the article was this: while the ideas behind blogs were noble, the idea that different people writing about different bands were getting read by different people, it just wasn’t the way things were going to work out. I could start writing about indie bands tomorrow and quadruple my faithful readership in about a month. However, blogs like Songs:Illinois, Aquarium Drunkard, Lonesome Music, and Star Maker Machine (a blog which probably adheres to that initial idea better than any of us) are pumping out better material than Stereogum has in the past year, and except for [possibly] Aquarium Drunkard, they don’t have even a drop of the traffic Stereogum gets. The reality is that 80% of the blogs are writing about the same 40 bands and the rest of us are out there doing our own thing in relative anonymity. I’ve long made my peace with that, and I imagine the other blogs mentioned above have as well.

What does that have to do with Elton John? The vast majority of music blogs are not going to write about such an artist simply because he’s not “indie” (read:obscure) enough; and truth is, the rest of us won’t either because we’re afraid of anyone on a major label, simply not hearing enough outside our niche genres (color me guilty), or we’re just assuming it’ll get plenty of press on it’s own and doesn’t need our piddly little websites’ help. I do, however, feel that despite the above I should tell you about the new John Mellencamp album, Life, Death, Love, and Freedom.

If I told you John Mellencamp’s new album was absolutely awesome, would you believe me? No? Hell, I can’t blame you. When I was told the same I didn’t believe the messenger, either. I heard, “The new Mellencamp album. Man you need to hear it! It’s awesome. It’s totally blahblahblahblahblahblah…” I heard “it’s awesome” and immediately dismissed their opinion the same way that I dismissed his attempt at a Chevy commercial. Then I received an email from a friend saying the same thing and I decided to look into it.

My Mellencamp position going into the album was that I am an unapologetic fan of everything up to and including his 1986 effort, Scarecrow. I am pretty much indifferent and unfamiliar with everything after the Ameri-gasm/patriot pandering/embarrassment that was the Chevy commercial last year. However, a year later, when he could have easily taken the Toby Keith route of wrapping nationalism in an American flag for a dollar, he comes out with a stripped down and dark album about a troubled country in troubled times (“Troubled Land”, “Jena”). With tracks like “If I Die Sudden” and “Don’t Need This Body”, it seems that John has reached that age where death is close enough that he’s starting to think about it.

Maybe it’s his age. Maybe it was the backlash from the last album. Who knows what it was and really, who cares? The point is, it seems that on Life, Death, Love, And Freedom Mellencamp has put aside chasing commercial success and decided to pursue the goal of putting together a complete album of strong tracks from beginning to end and, outside of “My Sweet Love”, I must say he succeeded. It’s definitely on my Essential Listening list and I decided to tell you about it–considering my feelings for him and regardless of how much press the album might get.

John Mellencamp - If I Die Sudden     

John Mellencamp - Troubled Land     

John Mellencamp – Don’t Need This Body

John Mellencamp’s Official Site, John Mellencamp on myspace, Buy Life, Death, Love, And Freedom

9 Comments

  1. August 8, 2008    

    Wow…your timeline of Mellencamp listening pretty much mirrors mine. Loved everything up to Scarecrow and been kind of embarrassed about it lately. I’ll check this out on your recommendation, then.

  2. Adam Fenwick Adam Fenwick
    August 8, 2008    

    All three of these songs are good, so good in fact i’ll be putting this on my Christmas List I think. I’m glad he finally put out another good record!

  3. August 8, 2008    

    Nice work here, AuIV. My timeline is similar, too — received Scarecrow as a gift as a kid (from the guy who was the head music writer and reviewer for Newsweek at the time — man, you think WE get too much music in the mail each week; you should have seen his house, with multiple rooms all lined with vinyl), went backwards from there, had mixed feelings about his more recent work afterwards, esp. the production…but continue to admire his songwriting, and think this new stripped-down sound is a great return to his roots.

    Nice to see the shout-out for Star Maker Machine, too, esp. in a list of some of my favorite blogs. As an almost-founding member (and now admin) of SMM, I’m a biased observer, but I, too, think we’re doing good work there.

  4. August 8, 2008    

    Y’all just keep posting my occasional contributions over there and you’ll be doing good work.

    🙂

  5. Todd Todd
    August 8, 2008    

    My goodness, you guys quit listening 1 album too short! What about The Lonesome Jubilee?!? C L A S S I C !!

  6. DownSouth DownSouth
    August 8, 2008    

    I have always like JCM’s “Heartland Rock” (or whatever you want to call it) but when he tried to start recording crappy pop songs is where he lost me. Keep to the small town storytelling songs Johnny.

    From what I have heard I like the new record.

  7. Ravel Ravel
    August 9, 2008    

    I have to agree that since the time he made Hurts So Good, etc, I didn’t listen to Mellencamp much… With your 3 tracks here, it makes 4 tunes I hear from his new album and I really like it. Maturity?
    Your blog post is quite interesting. Everything, past & present, should be considered “Indie” because every kind of music should be worth a listen and a discovery… maybe.
    Thanks for it all!
    Ravel, Montreal, Quebec

  8. jh jh
    August 9, 2008    

    Freedom’s Road was uneven, granted, and Our Country was lame, agreed, but Rodeo Clown made up for it easily. Rural Route was a dark story too.

    I don’t comment to be apologetic, just to say so much emphasis regarding Freedom’s Road is put on Our Country that the rest is drowned out.

    Got the new one too; only had time to spin it once but I liked it.

  9. Darius Darius
    August 12, 2008    

    I’m a liner notes freak from way back, so I’ve been drooling to hear this ever since I heard Mellencamp was working with producer T-Bone Burnett. It’s everything I hoped it would be. And it will be on my Christmas list too. Thanks.

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