UK's Classic Rock Magazine: Life, Death, Love And Freedom 8 Out Of 10 Stars Review

Let's Get Serious - Mr. Happy Go Lucky's not laughing any more.
By Jerry Ewing for UK's Classic Rock Magazine

After a 32-year recording career, the 56-year old Mellencamp arrives at his 18th studio album of original material in highly-reflective mode. In fact, on most of Life, Death, Love And Freedom he's lyrically at his most morbid, taking the darker side of his character that was most evident over last year's Freedom's Road, and running it through the themes of every song, themes of course reflected in the album's title.

"Nothing lasts forever, Your best efforts don't always pay," he sighs on opening track Longest Days, a line that could, perhaps sum up his career, were it not for the fact he remains a hugely popular artist in his native America, a fact highlighted by the top 10 US chart placing achieved by both this and Freedom's Road.

But this isn't the sound of a man in celebratory mode, although musically Mellencamp seems to have found his niche with an electrfied folk rock sound reminiscent of Bob Dylan.

Maybe, given Mellencamp's penchant for documenting small town Americans life, this is the sound of a man who has looked and no longer likes what he sees, "I can't see much like I used to," he offers on the gently rocking Don't Need This Body, and "I've been out here in this world on my own too long" on A Ride Back Home. Whilst Jena is a scathing account of the much-publicized 2006 Jena 6 racism trial in Louisiana.

And yet with producer extraordinaire T. Bone Burnett seducing a delightful sonic landscape out of Mellencamp and his often spartan band, Life, Death, Love And Freedom is still an enthralling and challenging listen. And with an added DVD version utilizing Burnett's new high definition Code format, sounds even more magnificent through a DVD sound system than it does on your stereo, with added resonance and depth.

So despite the dour meaning behind songs like Troubled Land, there's always something like the delightfully simple but effective My Sweet Love to lighten the gloom. Or notably the album's uplifting ending, the wistfully enchanting A Brand New Song, on which Mellencamp intones "Life is always in motion/New People to count on/Here we find a purpose/To sing a brand new song."

Let's just hope that he means it.