The Believer Magazine: Real Life Rock Top Ten No Better Than This Review

The Believer By Greil Marcus

(4) John Mellencamp, No Better Than This (Rounder). Mellencamp had a ridiculously precious idea: record a set of new songs in the Sun studio in Memphis, where Howlin’ Wolf and Elvis once walked the few square feet as if it were the earth; in the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia, a stop on the Underground Railroad; and in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where in 1936 Robert Johnson faced a wall and sang “Cross Road Blues”—and not just put the thing out on CD and vinyl, but do it all in mono.

Slowly, tune by tune, and so imperceptibly that each time you play the album it might seem to shift at a different time, the muffled sound of the music begins to work on the ear as something not old, but looking back at the singer from a future he may not reach. Nothing is rushed; in “Save Some Time to Dream” (Memphis), “Thinking About You” (Savannah), and “The West End” (Memphis), Mellencamp’s voice sounds like something he had to scrape off the back of his throat. And then comes “Love at First Sight” (Savannah). The singer passes someone on the street, and glimpses their whole life together. It takes him four and a half minutes to tell you everything that happened, the music bouncing lightly up and down, back and forth, like hopscotch, but with every detail—a smile, a kiss, her getting pregnant, them getting married, her leaving him for another man—you never don’t know that the singer saw it all in an instant, and you know that on any given day, you could, too.