John Mellencamp

Our southern Indiana Hoosier hometown hero John Mellencamp has a new album, Freedom's Road.  Overall, it surely ain't going to make you forget the John Cougar album, with the classic chip-on-the-shoulder epic "The Great Midwest."  Still, he's been nursing that grudge for 30 more years, and that enlivens a few moments of this batch of sometimes otherwise merely professional songs.

On a good day, John Mellencamp is haunted.  "Ghost Towns Along the Highway" conjures up some real sense of lost pasts.  That's halfway worth keeping around.  He really gets his spook on though on the "Rural Route."  The melody is middling, but the atmosphere and the harrowing In Cold Blood kind of story can get your attention.

On behalf of all the upright citizens of our hood though, I'd like to slap the taste out of the Little Bastard's mouth for the ridiculous and slanderous charges of "Jim Crow." 

Look what Jim Crow's done and gone
Went and changed his name
Don't know what he's going by these days
But he's still actin' the same

That right there is bullshit.  Jim Crow was legislatively mandated oppression against black folks for being black.  We did away with that.  Jim Crow is long dead, and he's saying stuff that factually just isn't true - though I'm sure it makes duet partner Joan Baez and the Little Bastard feel a warm glow of superiority to all of us Hoosier neo-Crows. 

"You can call it what you want to, but it's still a minstrel show."  I wonder if by "it" here he's referring to the Alice from Arkansas character that Joan Baez does.  Or perhaps he means gangsta rappers like Snoop?  No, somehow I'm pretty certain it's whiteys fault - except for the good enlightened ones like John and Joan, of course.

In fairness though, "Jim Crow" is one of the more effective songs on the album musically.  It seems that the opportunity to spread that moralic acid inspires some of his best motivation to do something.  He put extra effort and feeling into this song.  Just the little bits of string are a particularly effective touch, for one thing.

But the truly wicked and egregious crimes against geometry and theology here are, of course, the two featured songs - "Our Country" and "The Americans."  These are pretty much generic modern commercial country.  But it's even extra bad.  They're sub-Garth Brooks, as tunes and records- utterly flaccid and passionless.  The disreputable thing about "Our Country" is not that the ambulance chaser who would be commander in chief John Edwards is using the song in his campaign, but that it is utterly appropriate for him to do so.  It's just the kind of dishonest broadstrokes of by the numbers pre-chewed populist pablum that Edwards is selling. 

Did I imply these populist songs about his wonderful homeland are dishonest?  He's going on in "The Americans" about how nicey nice we are trying to help out everywhere.  But that's not what he really thinks of his community.  No, judging by his stronger passions and more memorable songs, his ideas of US would be more like "Jim Crow," the rousing official closer "Heaven Is a Lonely Place" and the final hidden track.  Heaven's going to be lonely because apparently the only people there will be the Little Bastard, Alice from Arkansas and other poor oppressed minority people - but not the rest of us evil no-good Americans who go around the world massacring innocent people for fun.

The hidden, uncredited track where he describes this - "Rodeo Clown" - is actually the most compelling and memorable piece of music on the record, though.  Again, seemingly nothing inspires his creative effort at this point like the opportunity to bash his people.  This is way the catchiest and most emotionally intense song on the album though, as he observes "blood on the hands of an arrogant nation" and their evil leader.  So much for that "I respect your opinions" crap he sings elsewhere on the album.  He may be bearing false witness against his neighbor, but he's bearing catchy and musically compelling false witness.  There's something to be said for that craft.

So then, sometimes I'd like to bring the pimp hand down on the Little Bastard for badmouthing our people, but he still made a pretty good record doing it.  It's not his best, but he's still a talented Little Bastard.  And he's our Little Bastard.




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