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Album: John Mellencamp, Life, Death, Love and Freedom (Hear Music)

Life, Death, Love and Freedom features 14 songs in the authentically stark, wind-blown style of early-20th-century country-blues, when poverty stalked the land.

Things have since changed but not exactly improved, Mellencamp believes: songs such as "Jena" and "Without a Shot" rail against the remnants of racism and corruption in the American body politic, while in "Troubled Land" he senses more hard times a-comin'. But of the four titular concerns, by far the one occupying most of Mellencamp's attention is Death: from "Longest Days" on, the album is gripped by the guttering of life's candle. The lonely, embittered protagonists of "If I Die Sudden" and "John Cockers" yearn for death to release them from the ignominy of disillusion, while the narrator of "Don't Need This Body" observes that "this getting older ain't for cowards". It's all rather depressing, and if the pessimist scolded in "Mean" isn't Mellencamp himself, it's a clear case of pot calling kettle black. Certainly, the glimmer of hope offered in "A Brand New Song" seems small comfort against the tide of hardship and gloom that's preceded it. Like Springsteen's Nebraska, it's a worthy piece of work that won't worm its way that easily into one's affections.



Pick of the Album: 'Longest Days', 'John Cockers', 'Young Without Lovers', 'Mean'

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