“Life Death Loveand Freedom”
(Hear Music) **
Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame apparently incited John Mellencamp to obsess on mortality.
He responds with “Life Death Love and Freedom,” the most somber album of his 32-year career, offering bass-heavy, rumbling blues and dark-hued acoustic stomps that explore death, relationships and the dark clouds hovering over such ongoing concerns as liberty, equality and peaceful coexistence.
Working for the first time with veteran producer T Bone Burnett, Mellencamp moves away from the anthemic roots-rock and Midwestern soul music he's built his reputation on. Burnett envelops him in the same misty, reverberating twang used so well on Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' “Raising Sand.” But Mellencamp uses that sound for an album of midnight ramblings that are less playful and more ominous.
The core songs address death directly: “Sometimes you get sick, and you don't get better,” he sings in the opening “Longest Days.” “If I Die Sudden” features lyrics as blunt as its title, while “A Ride Back Home” asks Jesus to deliver him once he's gone. Another song, “Don't Need This Body,” starts with “This getting older ain't for cowards,” then bemoans that he and his friends won't be around much longer.
Not everything is so bleak: “A Brand New Song” acknowledges life's difficulties while saying we all must work to find the best in ourselves and others, while “For The Children” is a prayer for a future of less suffering and more humanity – after he's gone, of course.