» LATEST FEATURES

LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
John Mellencamp
Words and Music
Island UTV Records

Rating: 7.5/10 ?


January 25, 2005
Authority doesn't always win. John Mellencamp used to think it did. He'd been fighting it his whole life. First, it was the cops and the starched-collar preachers who tried to keep him from having a good time as a teenager. Then it was the management at the record label. His frustration boiled over in the rabble-rousing anthem, "Authority Song", off 1983's Uh-Huh, the follow-up to his smash album, American Fool.

A vehement middle finger in the face of the establishment, "Authority Song" was the white trash answer to Public Enemy's "Fight The Power." Yet, it was also sort of a white flag. In it, Mellencamp admits defeat, resigning himself to the fact that "... authority always wins." Of course, that's the rebellious teenage Mellencamp talking. The middle-aged pop star Mellencamp with the blonde, nordic goddess of a model for a wife and the scads of hit singles and gold albums behind him might say otherwise. Then again, he did publicly back John Kerry in the last presidential election. And the family farms he's fought so hard to save other years continue to disappear, swallowed up by agriculture conglomerates that don't give a damn about the common man. So, maybe authority has won out after all. But don't tell John that. He's liable to run you down with a tractor.

In part, it's that pugnacious attitude that's gotten Mellencamp this far. So he lost a little "street cred" among Andy, Aunt Bea, Goober and the rest of the Mayberry crowd for letting the A&R people talk him into adopting the ridiculous stage name, John Cougar, early in his career. He's earned it back and then some. Albums like Scarecrow revealed a powerful voice for social causes and gave pop star credence to the notion that America, for all its talk about freedom and justice for all, still has a long way to go to make that dream a reality for all its people.

"Rain On The Scarecrow," one of 37 songs on the recently released two-disc greatest hits collection, Words and Music, makes a strong case for Mellencamp's ability to deftly couch socio-political statements in lyrics that speak the truth, plainly and simply. The guitars slash like a wheat thresher and you can practically see the acid dripping from his tongue as he sings, "Blood on the scarecrow, blood on the plow" in an attempt to shed light on the desperate plight of America's farmers. Them's definitely fightin' words.

Scarecrow is Mellencamp's mission statement, an anthemic declaration of who he is, where he comes from and what he believes in. It's Mellencamp at his most primal and his most political. Eager to engage his listeners on topics that touch his blue-jean jacket covered heart, Mellencamp tills the rich, fertile soil of Sixties protest rock - see Neil Young, Crosby, Stills, and Nash and The Byrds - and distills it to its essence with what today would be the equivalent of an ox and a cart, i.e. driving bass, firecracker drums and charging guitars. Along with "Rain On The Scarecrow," there's "Small Town", a pep rally for an America that time forgot. "R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A." and "Rumble Seat" pump up the rock 'n roll horsepower of Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, as does "Lonely Ol' Night."

On Lonesome Jubilee, Mellencamp hit his stride as a songwriter and shuffled off the yoke of standard format rock instrumentation. Here, he embraces the loving arms of Americana with the wild violin swordfight of "Paper In Fire" and the mandolin wind of the swooning, string-laden "Check It Out" - for my money the best song Mellencamp has ever written. "Cherry Bomb", with its dancing accordion and mellow melodic glow, is a wonderful ode to youth and growing up in a Norman Rockwell utopia. It's like listening to friends at high school class reunion reminisce about all the trouble they used to get into. You can't help but smile along with John and get a little choked up when he sings, "... our hearts were really beating."

Mellencamp was, at this time, turning away from the hormonal urges of his early records and the hits they spawned, like "Ain't Even Done With The Night", "Hurts So Good" and "Jack & Diane." Restless and rife with sexual tension, the songs of American Fool and its precursors, his self-titled debut and Nothin' Matters And What If It Did, seemed to have a libido of their own. Not merely lurid descriptions of fumbling makeout sessions, they were songs that captured the intensity and flooding emotions of teenage romance, without wallowing in cheap pornographic imagery.

Uh-Huh was something different. A more defiant Mellencamp emerged, one that was spoiling for a fight with the heartless banks and the corporations that would put the squeeze on a blue-collar family suffering financial misfortune, and comes out swinging on "Pink Houses", sarcastically asking, "Ain't that America ... " What he lacks in subtlety, Mellencamp makes up for it with his passion and conviction. His voice kicks up gravel like a Ford Mustang peeling out on a dirt road and the guitars stir up a Haymarket Riot of righteous anger, conjuring images of men in overalls pumping their fists and pitchforks into the air.

Mellencamp seemed to mellow after Lonesome Jubilee, and his newfound maturity sometimes resulted in songs drained of the piss and vinegar that made his mid-period work so vital. "Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)" is a great example. So is the Van Morrison cover "Wild Night." Mellencamp's most transparent grab for pop glory, "Wild Night" is a watered-down version of the original with overly slick production values that suck out its soul. "Get A Leg Up", off 1991's Whenever We Wanted, is full of silly male bravado. It sounds like Mellencamp penned it while in the throes of an all-night Viagra binge. And "Dance Naked", the flaccid title track off the album of the same name, makes you squirm a little with lyrics that reveal a side of Mellencamp that seems... frankly a little lecherous. Give me Mellencamp's coming-of-age tales of sweaty, fumbling romantic liaisons in the backseats of cars or movie theater balconies; they just seem more innocent, more passionate and they have an endearing spontaneity.

Mellencamp isn't going gently into that good night, though. Culled from 1996's Happy Go Lucky, "Just Another Day" is Mellencamp at the top of his game, blending light mandolin touches with muscular rock for a sound that could only be from America's Heartland. One of two new songs here, "Walk Tall" is like advice from a wrinkled old man who's seen it all and doesn't want anyone to make the same mistakes he did. It has a wry melody born of dusty back roads, fields of corn, brilliant sunsets and the optimism and wisdom of Walt Whitman.

New Jersey has Springsteen and the Deep South has Tom Petty, and with Mellencamp they form a holy trinity of salt-of-the-earth singer-songwriters who forged their own identities and succeeded on their own terms. You might think Indiana, and the rest of the Midwest, got the short end of the stick here. I couldn't agree less. Yes, Springsteen is more skilled as a lyricist, using metaphor and paring his rich, vibrant language down to the bare bones to get at the meat of his stories about good people living on society's margins, and surviving. And yes, Petty has gotten better with age than Mellencamp. But there's something about Mellencamp's music that stirs you to action, whether it's organizing a political rally or taking the object of your affection in your arms and kissing them deeply and suddenly, as if you've realized you're going to part forever. And for that, "Now More Than Ever", with Bush back in Office and the rich and the powerful seemingly given a license to print money and steal from the poor, he should be celebrated.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

» MEDIA DOWNLOADS

» GOT STICKERS?

If you'd like to help spread the word about LAS, or simply want to outfit yourself with some adhesive coolness, our 4" circle LAS stickers are sure to hit the spot, and here is how to get them:

--> Send an with $2 in PayPal funds to cover postage. Don't worry, we'll load you up with enough to cover your town. Then just be patient. They will arrive soon.

» WORLDWIDE DOMINATION

LAS has staff and freelance writers spread across North and South America, Europe, and a few in Southeast Asia as well. As such, we have no central mailing adress for unsolicited promotional material. If you are interested in having your project considered for coverage, please contact us before sending any promotional materials - save yourself time and postage!