Release Date: Aug 17, 2010
Record label: Rounder
John Mellencamp calls No Better Than This his “most rebellious record ever” and who are we to argue? No disrespect to Mellencamp, but it’s not like his long career has been filled with crazy detours into free form jazz and electronica. He’s never gone Christian, never done anything like his pal Lou Reed and set an entire album to Edgar Allen Poe’s writing, never fully challenged his audience. About the most risky thing he’s done is offer up one of his better late career songs, “Our Country”, to a truck commercial, which probably paid off handsomely in his bank account, but soured a lot of people on his music because of the tune’s ubiquity and jingoistic vibe.
John Mellencamp is such an old-timey, small-town kind of guy that he recorded his new album in mono. That’s entirely fitting, since quite a few of this baker’s dozen of new tunes (produced by T Bone Burnett) sound like lost classics plucked from scratchy old 78 rpm discs. Compelling and heartfelt, No Better Than This feels tantalizingly timeless.
The album's opener, "Save Some Time to Dream," is from the older, wiser songwriter who gave us "We Are the People," "Jackie Brown," "Human Wheels," and is a skeletal part two of "Your Life Is Now." These historic locales reflect the tunes somewhat -- especially the driving title track, "Coming Down the Road," and "Each Day of Sorrow" that come from, respectively, the rockabilly of Carl Perkins, early Elvis, and Johnny Burnette. "No One Cares About Me" is a pure Mellencamp lyric, but its sound is reminiscent of the Sun-era Johnny Cash. The spooky banjo of the minor-key blues that makes up "The West End" touches on the folk-blues Bob Dylan utilized on "The Ballad of Hollis Brown." "A Graceful Fall" is electric hillbilly blues.
Over the last 10 years, John Mellencamp has moved steadily away from the studio-slick punch of his heyday in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and the rootsier approach he has taken of late has served him well. His songs have always conveyed a rural-minded brand of populism, and his latest album, No Better Than This, continues his evolution into a modern-day folk hero. The record also happens to be one of the most focused, tightly written sets of Mellencamp’s career.
John Mellencamp No Better Than This Rounder Rating: If you were one of those people who weren’t real fond of John (then Cougar) Mellencamp in the early ‘80s, you weren’t alone. But hopefully you came to realize that he wasn’t going away no matter how sick you were of “Jack and Diane,” and that he was the real deal: A midwestern farm town boy who was just as passionate about rock ‘n’ roll and acoustic music as he was about the rural way of life, and didn’t care who agreed with him. Now, three decades later, Mellencamp is still pushing the envelope and doing life on his own terms.
BRIAN WILSON “Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin”. (Disney Pearl).