The Farr Side: Mellencamp’s latest rooted in realism

David T. Farr

“Life Death Love And Freedom” is the latest CD by songwriter John Mellencamp.

You read that correctly — I said songwriter. The American-bred rocker is hoping to make the transition from rocker to songwriter before our ears.

I viewed him as a songwriter, even before now. So learning his new stance seems puzzling. He’s penned almost his entire music repertoire, which has been pretty amazing. His knack for capturing middle America has only been paralleled by that of Springsteen.

Maybe you’re one of the two American kids who grew up in the heartland. I wonder what ever happened to Jack and Diane anyway? All I know is I grew up in a small town, too, and his music had a huge impact on me.

Whether he was known by John Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp or John Mellencamp, it didn’t matter. I always knew his music was going to R.O.C.K in the U.S.A. and beyond. That’s one of the main reasons he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.

Through the ’90s, Mellencamp’s music sort of took on its own direction compared to some of his peers. It was still cool, but some of the catchy rock riffs and stories were replaced with poignant, times-related tunes as the decade came to an end.

What’s different now for Mellencamp is what’s different for all of us if you listen to the new album. It encompasses the present mood of the country, whether by its social, economical or racial relevance. It’s definitely a sign of the times.

“Life Death Love And Freedom” is his most simplistic album to date, musically speaking, but it’s also his darkest. The mood is grim for the most part and his delivery at times shudders much the same sentiment.

It seems Johnny Cash went down this very same path toward the latter part of his recording career. I’m not saying Mellencamp is anywhere near the end, but hearing him on some of these tracks, especially “Don’t Need This Body” and “If I Die Sudden,” reminded me of Cash’s interpretation of NIN’s “Hurt.” It’s too depressing for me.

It may be depressing because of how real some of the tracks feel. “Longest Days” is the best example. He sings, “Nothing lasts forever/Your best efforts don’t always pay/Sometimes you get sick/And you don’t get better/That’s when life is short/Even in its longest days.”

Tell me you haven’t lived that yourself or known someone who has. It’s all too real and perhaps what he means when he says he wants to be known more as an artist instead of a hit-maker. “Mean” depicts Mellencamp’s observation on the world around us through the eyes of someone else.

It’s a cleverly written piece of work.

On a lighter note, there are a couple of shining moments reminiscent of a Mellencamp I like best. “My Sweet Love” is the first single and the best track from the T-Bone Burnett-produced album.

Burnett is most known for his producing talents on the soundtrack to “O Brother Where Art Thou” and the recent collaborative efforts of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant on their album “Raising Sand.”

David T. Farr is a Journal correspondent. E-mail him at