John Mellencamp | Life Death Love and Freedom

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By MIKAEL WOOD  |  July 15, 2008
3.0 3.0 Stars
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Even beyond the title — what, justice and the American way were busy? — it’s easy to tell that John Mellencamp is in Serious Statement territory on the follow-up to last year’s Chevrolet-pimped Freedom’s Road. First, the album cover finds our heartland heartthrob staring off pensively in front of a wall with a peeling paint job; we can see that he’s too concerned with pondering the (American) human condition to sweat interior design. Second, Mellencamp made the record with T Bone Burnett, the high-end avant-roots producer whose liner-note presence always signals an artist’s desire to embrace the Real. Here, Burnett provides Mellencamp with a slightly drier riff on the gorgeous goth-folk sound he got on Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’s Raising Sand. The arrangements are sparse compared with those of Mellencamp’s pop hits — many don’t even allow drums — but they’re rich with textural detail. (Dig the tasty electric-guitar playing of Burnett and Andy York in “My Sweet Love.”) The approach occasionally reveals soft spots in Mellencamp’s songwriting: “This getting older ain’t for cowards,” he announces in “Don’t Need This Body”; “This getting older is a lot to go through.” Yet for the most part Life Death Love and Freedom makes good on — and somehow makes entertainment of — its sober sense of purpose.
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