John Talks With USA Today about Plain Spoken

By Elysa Gardner -USA Today

John Mellencamp's new album is called Plain Spoken, and in describing the process behind it, the singer/songwriter stays true to its title and its reflective songs and stripped-down acoustic arrangements.

"I didn't sit down and decide I was going to make an album about certain topics," says Mellencamp, 62, of the release, out Tuesday and premiering today at "My mind is just open to ideas. I don't understand when people talk about having writer's block. I think, you're thinking too much! Just let it come to you."

The album's first single, Troubled Man, was 20 years in gestation, Mellencamp says. But another song, The Isolation of Mister, came so quickly "that I couldn't write fast enough to get it out."

He describes Lawless Times as "the only blatantly political song" on Plain Spoken. "I had 30 verses for it at first; I used ones I thought were funny." (The humor is acerbic, of course: Mellencamp says he has "lost faith in the American government" in recent years.)

"At my age, I'm not inspired by younger artists," he says. "I don't mean to sound snooty, but my inspiration comes from Steinbeck, Hawthorne, Shakespeare,Tennessee Williams." Of one darkly lyrical new song, The Brass Ring, Mellencamp says he's convinced that Williams "channeled it to me."

On a tour set to launch in January, Mellencamp will focus on the album but also play songs from his catalog "in the fashion this record is done in. You hear a song like Jack & Diane done in this fashion, and it can take on a whole new