Rolling Stone - Life, Death, Love and Freedom 4 out of 5 Stars
07.10.2008 - Earlier this year, John McCain used John Mellencamp's hits "Our Country" and
"Pink Houses" during stump speeches, until the Democratic singer asked him to
stop. It's unlikely that the Republican candidate would find anything useful for
his campaign on Life, Death, Love and Freedom. Mellencamp teamed up with
producer T Bone Burnett to create a whole new sound — a set of textured,
atmospheric folk and country blues that adds up to one of the most compelling
albums of Mellencamp's career. There's not a bright, catchy riff or fist-pumping
populist anthem to be found among these brooding, low-key songs about growing
old, sick, lonely and pessimistic.
Burnett brings a fuzzy moodiness to the gospel hymn "If I Die Sudden" and the
Springsteen-like "Don't Need This Body," both underpinned by distorted guitars
and reverb-heavy leads. Politically motivated songs like "Jena," about the
racially charged Jena 6 trial in Louisiana, and "Young Without Lovers," a more
general plea for tolerance, sometimes strain to deliver a Big Message, with
lines like "Let the people have the right to be different." But Mellencamp
excels at the simple tunes: the twangy "My Sweet Love," kick-started by a big Bo
Diddley beat and sweetened with female harmonies, and "A Ride Back Home," his
desperate plea to Jesus over spare, ragged guitars. Life's dark undertones may
not make for easy listening, but Mellencamp's raspy drawl has only gotten more
soulful with age.
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