John Cougar 

Where do all the good little cantaloupes go during the summer?
*special introductory paragraph!
*Chestnut Street Incident
*The Kid Inside
*A Biography
*John Cougar
*Nothin' Matters & What If It Did
*American Fool
*The Lonesome Jubilee
*Big Daddy
*Whenever We Wanted
*Human Wheels
*Dance Naked
*Mr. Happy Go Lucky
*Rough Harvest
*John Mellencamp
*Cuttin' Heads
*Trouble No More
*Freedom's Road
*Life Death Love and Freedom
*Life Death Live and Freedom
*No Better Than This

Johnny/John Cougar/Cougar Mellencamp/Mellencamp has been putting out pretty basic rock and roll albums for a hella long time, and is one of the few musicians who actually got BETTER over time, at least until he got worse again. His influences include Springsteen, the Stones, the Byrds, the Hombres, Roy Orbison, the Stooges, David Bowie, The Lovin' Spoonful, Neil Diamond, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, the Melvins, the Members, Men at Work, Men Without Hats, Menswear, Natalie Merchant, Mercury Rev, the Merry-Go-Round, the Merseybeats, the Merton Parkas, Metallica, the Meters, George Michael, Lee Michaels, Lee Marvin, Mark Prindle and the Low-Maintenance Perennials. Sometimes he uses a piano and has a message. Other times he rocks out with generic rock and roll guitar and sings with his almost unbearably macho rock and roll midwest boy voice. But no matter what bad things you may say about him, you cannot deny that he is short.

Reader Comments
Hey, I really don't know anthing about Mellencamp, but I like that you named a bunch of "M" bands. I did a similar joke (THE SAME JOKE but I swear I didn't read you back then) when I announced my friends' band, THe Hubies, at a concert one time. They are pretty generic punk rock, but with a spirit of fun. They are very independent (recording their own albums on their own "label") and I played cowbell. Rock and roll hootchie koo!

Chestnut Street Incident - MCA 1976.
Rating = 3

Johnny Cougar (a name chosen by his manager without his consultation) recorded this album when he was 24 years old. That's only three years younger than me. I'm ashamed of any 24 year old who records an album this bad. He desperately ached to be Bruce Springsteen, to the point of completely ripping off his melodic and lyrical style in most of the songs. The only positive thing to say about this debut is that the cover tunes (half the album!) aren't bad. He does a kooky weird thing with the Doors' "Twentieth Century Fox," making it creepy and jagged the same way Fear did with "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place." "Jailhouse Rock" is nice too, and there's this killer guitar rocker called "Supergirl" that I like a dickload amount, but I'm not sure if it's a cover or not. It's certainly not a cover of the Fugs song "Supergirl"! By the way, if you are laboring under the misconception that the Velvet Underground were lyrically revolutionary, pick up the first couple of Fugs albums. From the same time period, they are absolutely SMUTTY and DRUG-RIDDEN!!! Lyrics like "I'm getting more pussy than the Spades." Why could Johnny Cougar never be so poetic?

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The Kid Inside - Riva 1977.
Rating = 2

Apparently deciding that Spruce Stringbean had far too much talent to emulate, John Cougar lowered his sights about a thousandfold, aiming to be a Bob Seger rockin' sissy saxophone piano bar band. His songs totally suck though, much like Bob Seger's, so pass it by. It's not enough to have a rollicking energetic backbeat if your album only contains two or three actual melodies (I like "R. Gang"! "R. Gang" is a really good little tune! It fills me with glee, O.G.!). A two out of a ten is a low score. And The Kid Inside is a low album.

Be sure to buy lots of copies of the computer game Tropico comes out, or they're gonna lay my ass off.

And I don't mean the GOOD definition of "lay" either.

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A Biography - Riva 1978.
Rating = 5

I made up a hilarious question today. A question so hilarious, I have to ask it right now to you, my imaginary friend in the computer who doesn't exist. Here it is:

On a scale of 1 to 10 -- how much do you weigh?

HA! See? It was burning a cigarette in my lung; I HAD to tell somebody! Also, just to warn you, in a few moments you are going to read a piece of literature (or as I like to call work that I don't understand - "SHITerature") in which I accuse everybody who claims to have heard this album of indulging in the inhalation of burning happy leaves. That was penned long long ago in a galaxy far far right here. But this is NOW, and NOW I know that A Biography exists, and the only question now is who it's supposed to be a biography of. My first guess was going to be Mother Teresa, based on the lyric "She's one of those Sunday afternoon walkers who searches down the rich dick" in "High C Cherrie," but that theory was shot to Hell when John Cooger followed it up with a pretty obvious nod to James Earl Jones, "If I could just get your hands on my balls." Then I had a rash change of butt rash when "Let Them Run Your Lives" flew around, with its unfathomably brilliant metaphor "Watch 'em as they cut your throat with their parental carving knife." Could the great J.C. (What Would He Do, by the way?) have predicted Jon Benet Ramsay as far back as when I was five? Maybe he was singing about ME!!!!! THAT'S who it's a biography of!!! It's so OBVIOUS now! "Born Reckless"? That's ME! One time in high school, I went to Taco Bell instead of to sell ads for journalism class!!! "Factory"?? I'VE seen factories!!! In fact, the first several times I heard the song "Battery" by Metallica, I thought they were saying "Factory"!!!! Also, I always thought that the Coasters' "Charlie Brown" said "Who's always pooping in the halls?" and the Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody To Love" said "When the Tookie's found, Tookie lies!" and the first line of "Wooly Bully" was "Had a cold headache!" But NONE of these corporate lies turned out to have even a grain of truth, and I've never listened to music since, instead basing all my record reviews on my trusty mood socks. Today they're red? Then this album must be mediocre!

No hang on, it may be because I sliced all my toenails off as an April Fools Joke.


In his earliest incarnation, Johnny Cougar wanted to be thought of as a tougher (and much shorter) Bruce Springsteen. Overdramatic piano lines, urban saxophones and' axe guitars. Lyrics from the point of view of the workin' man, with his workin' man lusts, violence, daydreams and beer. But where Springsteen painted poetic visions of escape and failure, the Coog just wallowed in it as if white trashiness is something to be proud of. Some of his piano lines are epic and dramatic enough to be moving, and "Factory" certainly has a cool echoey distorted guitar tug (and weirdly gruff sax solo), and hey! Who could knock "Where The Sidewalk Ends"? (A: It's a trick question. Nobody could knock it because nobody's ever heard it) And hit singles? Has John Cougar Mellen "Former Atlanta Braves Pitcher Rick" Camp ever written another hit single as great as "I Need A Lover"? The answer, of course, is no. Because quality in music is completely subjective. No song is "better" than another, except in the listener's own mind. That's an obvious point, even if you're as dumb as me (and believe me, you ARE as dumb as me!).

What is NOT subjective is when you rip off "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" for "Let Them Run Your Lives" just seconds before ripping off "Love Reign O'er Me" for "Goodnight." That's just lazy songwriting, objectively speaking. Also objectively speaking, my objective tonight is to GET SOME PUSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS out of the pimple on my face. It's all white and grody.

Reader Comments (Andy)
This is Germany calling *g* Why was "A Biography" never released on CD?? I have a UK promo LP Set, with another sleeve, Info`s, pic`s - nice one from the UK (I bought in London before release date 1978). . But I still want to see it on CD ... Any Info`s about it?
It could be because I'm the only Meat Loaf fan who reads this website, I'm sure...

But does anybody else notice that I Need a Lover is F$#*%@* IDENTICAL to 'Bat Out of Hell'? When I heard the intro for the first time I almost said 'Cool!, they're playing Bat Out of Hell on the radio for once!' and it was just this lame-ass ripoff.

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John Cougar - Riva 1979.
Rating = 5

His best one yet!!!! An album so impressive that I wouldn't hesitate to call it "mediocre"!!!! This album is John's coming of age. He's no longer trying to be a young Springsteen or Seger. He is trying to assimilate what he likes about these "Americana" artists into the sounds of his other favorite artists (especially the Rolling Stones, whose guitar use and 4/4 beat are all OVER this album!!!!) to create a "John Cougar" sound. He's still not an expert at this musicmaking thing, but at least he doesn't sound like he's just imitating Woody Guthrie by way of Bob Dylan by way of Bruce Springsteen by way of John Cougar by way of John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. The band sounds a little smarter and there are actually several creative songs on here ("Pray For Me," "Small Paradise" and "Taxi Dancer" all offer more than the basic overused generic chord runs that permeated the last couple of records and, in fact, half of this record!). And the album had a HIT!!!! A catchy one!!! "I Need A Lover" isn't, mind you, the most original song you'll ever hear in your life, but it does have a very infectious vocal melody that it's hard to get out of your head, even if you're using a scissor. So my final summary of the album is this: Hi!

And dig these vibes: John's band at this time was called "The Zone"! HA HAHH HA HA HA!!!! Can this world even begin to imagine a larger pussy????

Okay yes, the overused sloshy volcano in Britney Spears' lap, but I'm speaking metaphysically here.

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Nothin' Matters & What If It Did - Riva 1980.
Rating = 3

Eww. This sounds more like his first two than that last one. No creativity here at all. But if you've ever wanted to take a trip to Clicheville, USA, hop aboard mister! If you've ever heard the trite semi-hit "Ain't Even Done With The Night," you know what to expect. The chord sequences are harmless Springsteen ripoffs, the vocals are safe, macho and wheezy, the guitars are distorted and "rockin'" in a non-offensive manner, the piano accompaniment is simplistic and unnecessary and the lyrics are.... hmm.

Well, just SHITTY, I guess, although "Cheap Shot" is a pretty cute rant about his old record label. "I bet you've heard this song before," indeed.... Funny little musical bit stolen from "My Sharona" too.

It's somewhat bathetic that the most enjoyable moments on the record are 25-second cover tunes, eh? At this rate, John was headin' to Nowhere City in a handcart made of human breasts. Whatever. I suppose it doesn't matter.

But what if it did???

Reader Comments
best album ever

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American Fool - Mercury 1982.
Rating = 7

Holy piles of yeah! Mr. Cougar has removed the failed romanticism of the pianos, saxes and crap from his (stolen) sound and presents here a stripped down American rock and roll album for everybody's Dad to enjoy! Very Stonesy almost all the way through (Tattoo You era, mind you -- this is by no means Beggars Banquet II or Let It Bleed Again: Brian's Revenge or Steeler Wheels: Additional Bad Songs). How could anyone of the male persuasion fail to at least find ironic wit and wisdom in the awesome tight playing of rednecky FM radio anthems like "Hurt So Good," "Jack And Diane" and "Hand To Hold Onto"? How could you not? Aren't we all Foghat fans here?

Eh? Arhm? Moof?

Let me point something out here -- John Cougar was THIRTY years old when this LP came out. His youth was over. And finally he got good! It was that darned youth that was holding him back all those years! Then suddenly he hit thirty and something hit him like a sack of potatoes benedict - "Wait a minute," he realized as he stood 3 foot 2 in the shower stall like a little tiny man one morning. "My albums are filled with musical stench!" That very morning, he sat down and wrote "Hurt So Good," a fantastic DUMB macho rock song that it took me a good 17 years to finally get around to liking. Boy is it a dumb song. Thank goodness for crunchy guitar tone and catchy little riff. And as for "Jack And Diane," are there actually people out there who SUCK on chili dogs!? If so, why? Do they just not have teeth?

There are still a couple of unbelievably bad Seger-esque rock anthem wannabes on 'ere, mate, but most of it is tight, simplistic, catchy and built like a shit brickhouse.

Reader Comments (Amanda Kenyon)
John Mellencamp is from Indiana. So am I. That means I'm supposed to love him. But I don't. I don't mind him, though. Except for "Jack and Diane." Piece of shit song. I didn't really care one way or the other about it until the idiots representing my senior class in high school decided it should be our graduation song. Apparently they didn't listen to the lyrics. A song about two kids in a small Midwestern town who get stuck there and stagnate? "Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone"? That is EXACTLY what you want to tell the class of 1999 of La Porte, Indiana (pop. 20,000). Fucking assholes.

Not that I am bitter.
you may enjoy "Jack and Dianne" and "Hurt So Good" ironically but as someone who has spent his entire life in Michigan among pick up trucks, bowling alleys and karaoke bars, I find these songs and this whole genre thoroughly depressing. I don't know why people romanticize the blue collar "Real American" life style.

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Uh-Huh - Mercury 1983.
Rating = 8

Leven sweater! Having become a major huge rock and roll pop star, John Cougar had the wherewithal to force his record label to add his real name "Mellencamp" to the end of his fake name for this release. And it's even more Rollingy and rifftastic than the last one! Hits on here were the fuckin' angry as shit "Crumblin' Down," acoustic "Jack And Diane"-outdoer "Pink Houses" (Ah! But ain't that America? You and me!), "I Fought The Law"-homage "Authority Song" and kinda dippy but nicely 60sish rocker "Play Guitar." That's one thing I should mention. There was a definite mid-60s feel to a lot of his best material. None of it sounded retro at ALL (except the later "R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A.," but that was supposed to), but there was a real sense of 60sish melodicism that today's kids (Limp Bizkit, Bush, Marilyn Manson) just don't quite get. Which is why their music is so hard for old fogies like me to listen to. They're just so annoyingly BLAND to ears like mine! But then I'm not big on rap either. I think I'm just sick of it. But it's basically just spoken word anyway, and how can one complain about the spoken word?

But back to Juan Cugar Meyencampo. Still really guitar-centric, much less rednecky than his last album, still really easy on the ears of anybody who loves classic American rock and roll. This is rock and roll, plain and simple. Stripped down rock and roll. No pretenses, with the minor exception of the farty ballad "Golden Gates" and maybe the silly Casio keyboard backdrop of "Jackie O." (cute song though!). Much more "rock and roll" in the traditional sense than the boogie-woogie piano bland attack of Bob Seger or pre-Born In The USA Springsteen, which were both a little overburdened with RnB instruments and such, if you ask that guy across the room who is using his telekinesis skills to enter my fingers and force them to type in whatever he wants me to. Big black hairy dick!!! Covered in sweaty ball juice!!!!

Whew. Thank God he gave me the use of my fingers back so I could write about big black hairy dick covered in sweaty ball juice, and how it applies to the musical history and theory behind John Cougar Mellencamp's Uh-Huh LP.

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* Scarecrow - Mercury 1985. *
Rating = 10

Not content to be an ordinary everyday fake rebel of rock and roll, Mr. Mellencamp dons a pair of sensitive intelligent eyeglasses and pens a collection of tons dedicated to his rural background. He discusses the plight of the modern-day farmer, the fun of discovering girls as a teenager and his early love of old time rock and roll. That kind of music just soothes his soul. He reminisces about the days of old. And plays that old time rock and roll.

Don't try to take him to a disco. You won't even get him out on the floor. There's only one sure way to get him to go. Start playing old time rock and roll.

He still likes that old time rock and roll. That kind of music just soothes his soul. Today's music ain't got the same soul. He likes that old time rock and roll.

Mr. John Cougar Mellencamp has grown a great deal since his early days of copping Bruce Springsteen and Bob "Pete" Seger, unveiling a tremendous amount of melodic ingenuity, guitar chord prettiness and arrangements that are about a million times more inspired than on his previous records. Yes, he's still just using a guitar, bass, drums setup (thank god), but the songs grow and build, and have different lead guitar parts during different sections, as well as crisp, high in the mix drums and interesting bass lines (I know it's easy to miss, but check out stuff like the descending run before the "Scarecrow" chorus and the almost unnoticeable but catchy-as-fuck three-note bass line during the verse of "Lonely Ol' Night" - this stuff seems so simple, but makes the songs sound so much more worked on and well-written!).

There's not a single bad song on here. And throughout, whether it be the bitter minor-chord, almost punk bile of "Rain On The Scarecrow," "Face Of The Nation" and "You Gotta Stand For Something," the sweet good time rock and roll flashbacks of "Rumbleseat," "R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A." and "Small Town," or the BITTERSWEET (I combined the two!!!!!! WOW!!@!!) gentle melodicism of "Lonely Ol' Night," "Between A Laugh And A Tear" and "Minutes To Memories" -- the mix is ALWAYS hard and tough, never soft and wet. The cracklin' oat bran drum sound and crankly distorto-jangle Byrdsy guitar sound are probably the main reasons for this, but the mix itself is, like I said, really great. It's easy to enjoy every single aspect of the music - nothing gets buried in muck!

I've been enjoying this album for 15 years. Even during my hardcore punker years when I made fun of the Coug for being such a mainstream dork rocker, I secretly sang all these tunes to myself on a regular basis. Yes, even when I had long hair with the sides of my head shaved like that guy in Faith No More! If you consider yourself a "classic rock" fan even a little bit, this record needs to be in your catalog. It is a wonderful example of what can happen when a shitty artist is given a chance to grow and develop as a songwriter. Sometimes he defies all expectations and spits out a stripped-down guitar rock masterpiece!

Other times he turns into Phil Collins.

Reader Comments (Jason Winfree)
Give me a break! This album is even WORSE than the rest! I know, it’s dressed down in its ‘ah shucks I’m just a poor hard workin’ dumb-ass’ attitude and its melodramatic sepia-toned (at least it should be!) Indiana-poor-taste album cover (but he still hasn’t lost that “wild” lock of hair that hangs in his eye, it’s just not covered with the poor dye job it is today). Justice and Independence is so pathetic I gag every time I hear the jingoistic piece of shit and its fake lament of a lost world that never existed in the first place. Grandma’s song---PLEEAASSEEEE save me from the maudlin drivel! The album smells worse than the fucking Greyhound bus it glorifies, its songs are less articulate than the country bumpkins it turns into ‘everyday heroes’, and its utter lack of anything resembling creative _expression is so prominent you can’t help but feel assaulted by it. And the musicians suck! They can’t play the acoustic instruments Johnny boy uses throughout as props. It’s offensive. It’s grotesque. It lingers like sour milk. It’s the work of an adolescent adult. “But there’s nothing more painful or beautiful than generations changing hands.” Stupid honkey music!
I misread the first line of your review while speedreading as "...Mr. Mellencamp dons a pair of sensitive intelligent eyeglasses and a penis collection."
Ah HA! The penny drops (you are not Job). This whole comment is largely an excuse for a rant, so excuse me while I whip it out (electronically).

Ahem. Ah suppose this is one of those instances, Prindle, where we have here a record you might likely despise, or give an eight at best, if you hadn't grown up with it. That's entirely an assumption of mine, with no evidence to back it up, but I'm sticking to you.

God help me, I can't concentrate all the way through a sentence. Forgive me. Actually, this record is pretty good--hits notwithstanding, "Between a Laugh and a Tear" was the best song on here. Unfortunately, the last five songs on my burned copy, for some reason, are piles of static. My CD player gives me this "Err" message, but I do believe, knowing Johnny as I do, that he decided to one-up Lou Reed in making the "Metal Machine Music" of the '80's. And by God, he succeeded (Mmm-hm, indeed).

Speaking of which, man, if you like this album, you just might like a certain album from 2002 known as C'mon C'mon, which unfortunately possesses a mix you might call "soft and wet," although the more accurate expression would be "gleaming and sculpted (capitalist pig (OI!))". Before launching Starostin-esque loogies at corporate producers and trip-hop beats, however (I'll say it again, Georgiy S.--STOP CALLING EVERYTHING MODERN "TRIP-HOP."), 'tis best to note that the only person under the "producer" credit is Sheryl herself. Which explains EVERYTHING. Females in the production chair. Pish-posh. The glass ceilin' is a-collapsin', Frank. . .

Meanwhile, I wanted to hate Enya AND her guts, (because she's ENYA, doi) but for some reason the slow, mushy, taking-frickin'-forever-to-resolve melodies on "How Can I Keep From Singing" "Angeles" "Evacuee" "Marble Halls" and "Smaointe" wouldn't let me. And that's not even mentioning the two overplayed hits on that album (Shepherd Moons). Fucking Enya. WHY CAN'T I HATE YOU LIKE EVERYONE ELSE COOL.

Finally, this classic rock stuff REALLY got me thinkin' 'bout my priorities in life, so I recently revisited a lot of the classic rock stuff I grew up on, generic blues-wank-dude-tubular guitar solos and all. Here's the lowdown: Early '80's Rush sounds worse and worse by the day, Kansas outright blows chunks o' doo (I used to TOLERATE them--can you believe it?!), Pink Floyd still sounds great but not QUITE as profound, Zeppelin sounds bad on songwriting but GREAT on playin', even now. . .

. . . and now we get to the Eagles. The fucking, fucking Eagles. Maybe, as you say, they're a horrible puke band overall; I dunno. I've only heard their hits and one of their albums, and I don't intend to go any further than that.

But. . . um, the point is, the album Hotel California. I relistened to it. All forty-four excruciating minutes. Fender Rhodes and all. Balls balls balls.

It didn't go down on my list. Or stay the same. It went UP. Up, up, up, and up. Fuck. As of now, that album has leapfrogged Dark Side of the Moon and Public Enemy to become the #2 album of all time I've listened to right behind Abbey Road. In other news, George W. Bush announced retiring to found Three-Pick Barbecue--Takes Three Picks To Get Yer Teeth Clean!! Now endorsing Satan fo

Yes, I know, I need to bang my head (metal health will drive me mad) more. I need to discover my inner ROCK! before I die of qualuude-induced Eagles-DEATH. I'm NUTS. (YAAAAJHBVSBDFbhdsfbhf!) Who cares. The point is, the Eagles may be a bad band, but anyone who crosses themselves and runs away from the album Hotel California screaming "AWAY, Satan! AWAY!!!" (much in the case of me and the Pixies, admittedly) is MISSING. . . OUT. . . in a BIG. . . WAY. There, I said it. No more. Take allegy pill and sleep.

Oh yeah, Johnny Cougar. I'm going to have to buy this album. Fucking Maxell copy CD's. They SUCK.

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The Lonesome Jubilee - Mercury 1987.
Rating = 8

Not content to be an ordinary everyday political pundit (i.e. Zbigniew Brzezinski), Mr. Jelloblamp has here softened his sound with a bunch of non-rock instruments like accordians, fiddles, dobros and crap like that. Most critics describe the style of this album as "Appalachian," so I'm going to call it "Mediterranean" even though that's wrong.

This album is Mediterranean. The straightforward rock style of the last few albums is tossed out the window in an attempt to do something different. You can't blame the guy, I suppose. Who wants to record the same kind of album over and over? Not AC/DC, Motorhead or the Ramones - THAT'S for damn sure! Those fine artists are continually striving to push the boundaries of rock and roll. That's what Mellencamp is trying to do. Maybe. I don't know. How the hell should I know what he was thinking? Maybe he was just trying to get whores to suck his pud, which is probably tiny.

Most of the songwriting on here is still really great. He throws out some excellent little riffages. There might be a few too many nostalgic mellow songs though. And they aren't punchy rock and roll mellow songs like on Scarecrow. I mean, of course I love "Cherry Bomb" and "Check It Out," but there are a few others that just drift right on by like a guy with a fish. The rockers, as I suggested earlier, are still mostly great though. They don't ROCK incredibly hard though. How "angry" can an "angry rocker" like "Paper In Fire" be when you've got that damn accordian making happy little duck noises all the way through?

In summation - it's great that John is refusing to repeat himself. He's bringing in new instruments and changing his sound around a little bit so he doesn't just repeat the success of Scarecrow. But I for one am glad that he didn't choose this as his end-all be-all style because I don't really like the sound of fiddles and such. Maybe in one or two songs per album, but a whole album? It just seems like he mucked up and bogged down a bunch of cool rock tunes with a bunch of jibberish noises (though, again, they certainly work in certain songs -- "Check It Out"? Sure! Nice accordian effect - kinda sounds like The Hooters, whatever. But "Paper In Fire"? Great song, awful accordian).

I love you!

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Big Daddy - Mercury 1989.
Rating = 6

The mellowness of his ingenuity strikes me as exceedingly effiminate or at least sanguine in regards to the age-old adage, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." The instrumentation, formerly rock-heavy and marlboro, is now soft, flaccid and concubine. Simply put -- he's proving that he'd rather be a truckle than a hyssop. The foundation of rock and roll is such that the music generally speaking does a sort of "rocking" followed by a testimonial from Sandra Day O'Connor. This is NOT as such, rather regarding gently placed tones, armageddon of sensitive joyfulness, nostalgic rocking chairs of torpidity and coffee drinking people of heights beyond frontiers of life and followings avoidance allegories.

Why does it feel like I'm listening to a fucking James Taylor album? I don't want to listen to a fucking James Taylor album! Dump the goddamned accordians, mandolins, violins and crap!!!

Oh, you did! For the final track - a cover of "Let It All Hang Out" - thank you!!!!

In case you were wondering, the big hit single off this album full of bland pop songs was...err... well, that song "Pop Singer" where he complains that he "never wanted to write no pop songs." Let me play Angel's Advocate here and draw three concentric circles on the board. This first circle is John's projected audience.....

Ha ha!!! That was my Montieth Illingworth impression! Wasn't it awesome??? Did it make you jump up, point and screen and shout jubilantly, "Hey! Monteith Illingworth just took over Mark's review for a second! ha hah!! HZhas!!!"

Oh I'm sorry, you don't work for TSI? That probably didn't mean much to you then.

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Whenever We Wanted - Mercury 1991.
Rating = 7

Finally gave up on that maturity crap and set out to make a stripped down guitar-oriented rock and roll album like in the olden days. Sounds great too! Very simple mix - just drums, bass, guitar and ol' Johnny raspin' away. It really is a bit too stripped down at some points though. There's only so many times a guy can play two chords over and over in one song and expect it to not seem a bit underwritten. Am I kooky go crazy butt for thinking so? Also, side one has a few miserably lame tunes ("Get A Leg Up" and "Crazy Ones" are asspipes if ever I've stuffed a turd back up one!). Side two is excellent though, starting with the completely un-Cougar-like "Last Chance," which sounds a hell of a lot like something Robert Plant's first guitarist would have done, if I may be so BLUNT.


Eh. If you don't get it, I don't much care. As far as I know, this album had no hits at all, but it should have. 1991? The year that grunge made everybody feel bad? This goodtime Keith Richards rock and roll would have done the trick! Kurt Cobain would still be alive and singing jolly pop songs about his happy life with that talentless golddigger he was married to!

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Human Wheels - Mercury 1993.
Rating = 8

Why, this is of interest. John has incorporated his beloved accordian, dobro and fiddle into his HARD rock sound without it watering down the cool songs at all! And they are cool songs -- if you like basic hard rock, look here. The songs are mixed really tough like on Scarecrow with all them weirdass Himalayan Jamaica instruments incorporated lightly and with tact, rather than shat all over the mix like on those two I bitched about earlier. And some of the songs even have funkyass wack beats, homeslice! Again, no hits as far as I know. Unless "When Jesus Left Birmingham" was a hit, in which case, HUGE hit on this one!!!!

Why is my puppy walking upstairs again? Would you mind going to get him for me? I'll give you stock options in Mark Prindle's Record Review Guide Inc. when I IPO later this year!

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Dance Naked - Mercury 1994.
Rating = 7

If you ever thought John Mellencamp had an intelligent bone in his body, please explain the ridiculous stupidity of this album title. And the title track - "I want to see you dance naked/But only if you want to"???? Come on, man. If this is an attempt to be a '90s sensitive male, something went horribly awry.

The album though! Stripped down arrangements yet again, hardy hee! Also lots of acoustic guitar on this, but not ballads or folk music. WA

Pardon me, my dog jumped up onto the keyboard and typed that "WA" bit. I myself try not to cry in my reviews, no matter how downtrodden I may feel at the time. As I sat a-typin' a-merrily merrily day, these are good old-fashioned rock and roll tunes, just with lots of akustik guitars. Excellently pleasant understated vocals by John on "Too Much To Think About" and a couple others. Wish he used that delivery more often - he actually sounds like a pleasant singer guy instead of a rollicking bumpkin! The hit off of here was "Wild Night" featuring Me'shell Ndegeotdkeallbkdsmtne,bdskaelj*a.fe, which doesn't sound even a whit like anything else on the record, man. Walt are you doing?

Hahhah!!! HHA!!! DO YOU GET IT???? WHIT? MAN??? WALT???????

You people are really going to have to start reading through the lines here. By the way, this album is only 29 minutes long, so don't buy it expecting a full-length 31-minute epic like The Kid Inside.

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Mr. Happy Go Lucky - Mercury 1996.
Rating = 8

I read somewhere that John almost died of heart failure or something shortly before he recorded this album. I almost died once, but not of heart failure. Last March when my fiancee and I were in Belize, we decided to take a "sea kayak" out to the "reef" even though neither of us knew what a "reef" was. Me, I thought it was a sandbar. Land, see. So we rowed, rowed, rowed our boat out about fifteen million miles until we were both exhausted and neither land nor boats were anywhere in sight. Then we discovered that a reef is, in fact, an underwater bunch of coral that makes really big, violent waves happen. Which is what they did. Which tipped over our sea kayak and almost made me drown. I was stranded in the water, completely out of energy, holding on to a lone oar for dear life, with the kayak and my fiancee way the hell over there. The waves were crashing over me and the tide was sucking me under. I thought I was going to die.

I didn't though. I managed to get the hell off of the pointy reef and cling on to the oar for fifteen horrifying moments until my oarless fiancee was able to hand-paddle the kayak to where I was.

So I understand why John would have made an album like this. It's dark. It talks about how hard life is, but how important it is to appreciate it while you can. It's moody. It's got thumpin' ass bass so you can dance to it. Definitely the most modern sounding album he has ever done, but not in a dippy "old classic rocker in a modern dancey environment that he doesn't mesh with" way. He's replaced his hick yell with a wheezy talk/sing and piled on lots of wicked guitar overdubs (slide, lead, acoustic, rhythm) creating a thick, full sound that is NOT Americana rock and roll, but newfangled 90sish rock. Would be considered "alternative," maybe, if it weren't by John Cougar! I like it a whole lot. The big hit was "Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)." Really catchy Byrds/Petty-sounding song, but completely unlike the rest of the album. In my opinion, they should have released some of the darker, punchier tunes. But what do I know? I didn't even know what a goddamned reef was until it almost killed me!

Did a reef ever almost kill you? How about a reefer? Did you ever die of a stabbing overdose like Sharon Tate did?

Reader Comments
I can relate to your reef experience. I was in Punta Cana on vacation and I almost killed myself and my daughter (then 10) going ocean kayaking. About 40 yards out and waist deep, I had not even gotten myself into the boat when I see this huge wave on the horizon. Of course, not enough time to get back to shore and, as it turns out, not enough time to turn the boat to an into-the-wave position, the monster wave ripped my feet from the ocean floor and the boat from my grip. This, of course, turned over the boat, spilled out my kid, sucked her down and dragged my sorry butt down and across a dead coral reef. You probably know from your experience it feels like jagged concrete. We lived, though bloodied, bruised and wiser. I will NEVER go into the ocean past my ankles again.

I happened across your page accidentally while looking for violin sheet music. Sorry to hear that you don't like the violin. I agree it doesn't belong in every song and maybe you're right about Mellencamp overusing it lately. Maybe he has a thing with the violin player, Hmm?

Applaud your writing style...You're a funny guy.

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Rough Harvest - Mercury 1999.
Rating = 8

Wonderful idea!!! I'm not sure if he owed Mercury a live album or what (it's worth pointing out that the guy has released 15 studio albums and NEVER subjected us to an "in concert" recording!), but what he's done here is gather his band in the studio and play loose, light, unplugged-with-violins alternate versions of a lot of his songs that should be classics but aren't, like "The Full Catastrophe," "Human Wheels" and "Between A Laugh And A Tear." Throw in a couple of cover tunes and WHAMMADEEDAMMO! Instantly enjoyable mellow Cougar masterwork.

Which doesn't excuse the drone ruination version of "Minutes To Memories," but what does? A fig with an eyesore? A blanket full of malarkey? Dirty deeds done dirt expensive?

Remember "Alf"? Alf was great. I miss Alf.

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John Mellencamp - Columbia 1998.
Rating = 4

Boy, THAT sure was a nosedive, waren't it? This sucks. Most of the album is midtempo folky violiny clean guitary Mellencamp at his most generic, then suddenly it ends with three HORRID funk experiments. Just beyond wretched. A complete embarrassment to the good Mellencamp name. Has a few catchy songs - I like "Fruit Trader," "Miss Missy" and "Chance Meeting At The Tarantula" quite a bit, but holy christ, John. Don't be doin' no funk, sire!

And F. Your Eye, the hit single off here was the annoyingly dumb "I'm Not Running Anymore," which features that female "Yeah! Whoo!" thing that was featured in 75% of dance hits in the early 90s. Way to stay current, John.


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Cuttin' Heads - Sony 2001.
Rating = 6

It is impossible to guage the impact that Mr. Johnny Cougar Mellonbottom has had on today's Musical Youth. The original progenitor of rap-metal, John Cougar has gone through sundry phases in his career, from the blue-eyed Memphis Opera of Uh-Huh through the speed bagpipe metal of The Lonesome Jubilee into the erotica trance/drum'n'bass country western of Dance Naked. So imagine my knee-buckling surprise when I brought home the latest compact disc from a store that sells promos used downtown real cheap, and discovered an album full of 'GENERIC AMERICANA'???? I know this is fukcin with your head right now, but yes I am talking about that very same John Cougar that created a mad sensation in Birmingham with his sideways-mohawked cyberclassical hit "Didn't Never Wanna Be No Pop Singer (Didn't Never Wanna Write No Pop Song)." But it's true.

Enough of lies. Life is too cold WITHOUT lies; imagine how chilly it would be if we all started lying? Bad! This is John Mellencamp doing nothing new. He has Chuck D doing a rap on one song (it's awful), but that's not much different than that funky crap he was doing on the last album. Most of this is pleasant enough, averagely written, passably performed Americana. Nothing too hard, nothing too soft -- nothing too creative either. You'll hear some black singers, some violins and banjos, stonesy guitars, acoustic and bottleneck, even some atrocious caribbean-flavored "Margaritaville" "Teakbois" but nothing so good that it will make you think about him the way you did the first time you heard "Hurts So Good." Which, in my case, was immense distaste. But I really liked the crap on his next album so it was just a hop, skip and jump until I was a full-fledged "Mellonhead," going so far as to dress up as a pile of shit for Halloween one year. Cuttin' Heads isn't a bad album - and it's certainly eons more listenable than the last one - but most of it is so by-the-numbers, you almost want to take some water-based paint of various colors and apply the different shades to the sound of the music coming out of your speakers, carefully within the lines of where the corresponding numbers are in the streams of white music floating through the air.

Hey, it's not MY fault you don't do as much crystal meth as me.

Reader Comments
I love all of john cougars albums I'm tryin to find all the mp3's of him as i can ........

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Trouble No More - Columbia 2003.
Rating = 7

Trouble No More? Ahhh, I LOVE Mike Patton!

Gordon Jump died today. The excitement of taking naked pictures of Gary Coleman finally proved too much for his little pornographer's heart.

In sad news, the sister of tennis playing twins Lashonda and Latoya Jackson was killed this week. It's sad, but not that sad because she didn't play tennis.

And it's this tragic news that brings us to the new John Cougar album. After sucking out loud on his last album, he wisely realized that perhaps his songwriting needed a break from all the run-me-downs of everyday artistic and performance life. His decision was to record an album of old blues and folk covers, accompanied by perfectly crackly bottleneck guitar, and a mandolin/accordion/violin combination that at times is a little TOO homespun and folksy (Indigo Girlsy, Lonesome Jubilee-y) for my personal tastes. But it DOES work enough of the time, because for the most part this is a sparkling good collection of tracks that artist/enabler John Cougar has chosen to record. Some of the acoustic strumming is downright BEAUTIFUL! And the meaner tracks are quite gritty as well -- unless and until the soft feminine instruments come in and soften them up with the touch of a woman or man who reads fiction, at which point they sound like the Hooters.

Those spinning in their grave (due to Hurricane Isabel, not this album) include Robert Johnson, Son House, Woody Guthrie, Hoagy Carmichael, Willie Dixon, Memphis Minnie and '20s Delta bluesman Lucinda Williams. Personally, I only knew two of these songs ("Stones In my Passway," "The End Of The World") before purchasing the new John Cougar CD on compact disc, but those of you with Folkways albums in your collection will probably be familiar with some of the others. John's only real input are some new words for "Diamond Joe" and some scathing anti-Bush commentary in "To Washington" that is sure to bring the FBI down on his ath and a Taliban airplane through the Cougar Family Ranch.

Wanna hear something hilarious? We were walking around downtown with my mom last night and she heard some crappy dance music or some crap and said to us, "Is that 'rehj-eye' music?" I'd certainly never heard of "rehj-eye" music before, so I quickly realized she meant "reggae." Though I found it a bit odd that a woman of her age (27) would never have heard reggae music before, and though I knew that had my father made the same bizarre pronunciation mistake, she would have made fun of him to everybody she knows for the next six months, I opted to quietly correct her and not mention it to anybody else. And I haven't! Nobody else knows! Good for me. I'm a good son.

Also, I'm friends with Ben Affleck and he told me that, secretly, between me and him, the only "J. Lo" he REALLY wants to sleep with is "Jack Lord"!

Reader Comments (Susan Hutchings)
Dear John Cougar Mellencamp,

The start of your songs and the end of your songs are in the knowing that good times are coming with and without the notes of your personal gifts.You lead on the notes of independance of United States of America. sincelerly susan hutchings.

P.S. The tapes and Compact Discs of your music, are both that Wayne, my husband and I enjoy. We call the notes and I sorta gave you a nickname. Gabriel, the Heralder of Heaven. So your name is synomous with Angels.

Sincerely, susan hutchings April 25,04. (ken doucet, ontartio canada)
dear john cougar i followed your carier from the the get got and i have every thing you relised and i truly enjoy all of them i just want to say thank and keep up the great music
mark you can kiss my big black ass (Susan F.W. Hutchings)
dear john mellencamp.

i would say for our band of three,you,john.wayne hutchings and me,susan hutchings that we play for the boys of the and all military.

tthank you (Johnny)
Speaking of "trouble no more"... what I find deeply "troubling" is that of the four people who have commented on this album before myself, three of them (that's 75%!) seem to think that by clicking on "Add Your Thoughts", they are contacting the REAL John Cougar Mellencamp (never mind the scathing reviews you gave to several of his albums). Christ... for all of Mellencamp's recent songs about the sorry state of America today, you'd wonder why he never wrote about the astounding number of uneducated, functionally illiterate citizens in this country. Just saying.

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Freedom's Road - Universal Music Enterprises 2007
Rating = 7

The Coug is back and he's pisseder than a blister!

Many a year has passed since Little Johnny Cougar brought us the goodtime summer fun of "Hurts So Good" ("Blowjob Jimmy, where'd you put my shoe?/Blowjob Jimmy, said-a how's by you?/Blowjob Jimmy, where'd you put my shoe - today?/A-sacka-lacka hey hey hey!"), and those years have watched him evolve from an short angry fish into a sad political truthmonkey with opposable thumbs. But enough about Darwin and his silly, unproven theories. 'John Cougar Mellencamp'? More like 'JESUS CHRIST Mellencamp, if you ask me!!!!!(about his initials "J.C.," and what they stand for)!!!!

But even through all the heart disease and heartland unease, not even Scarecrow or Mr. Happy Go Lucky found Mr. Meinenkampf as depressed about the state of America as he is now. Freedom's Road's ten songs plumb the depth's of our nation's (and narrator's) dark soul, paying witness to both everlasting American problems (the death of traditional ideals, the unending division and discord between those of separate races, religions and beliefs) and ills more specific to our time (the botched War on Terror, crystal meth use, sexual murder of children). Somehow though, he manages to hold a thin hope of optimism that good-hearted people will rescue the national soul from the politicians and murderers -- even as he jokingly declares that Heaven is being closed down due to underpopulation! (it isn't really)

Check out some of these feel-good party-harddd lyrics, all from different songs:

"This is the road of madness and trouble/And it's paved with intolerance, ignorance and fear"

"I can hear the voices of misery cryin'/Some day these highways will all disappear" (I know that rhymed with the last one, which was also about a road, but they are from different songs)

"When I think of all the wrong I've done/I can't believe it's me I'm talking about"

"Sometimes there's rape sometimes there'll be murder/Sometimes just darkness everywhere/'No Passing' signs and barbed wire fences/Misinformation but no one cares/....If you're looking for the devil/He's out there on Freedom's Road"

"It's amazing that after all this time/So many love Big Jim Crow"

"Twenty miles away by a lake/Girl's body's found, it's been raped/Twenty-eight year old friend of the father/Father traded his daughter for favors"

"Journalistic lap dogs can't seem to find the truth/Crystal meth with the paymaster sippin' on a hundred proof"

Yes, it's always a jolly party when Coug The Boog is around! Actually, three of the songs do sound more hopeful than the others, but even these ("The Americans," "Our Country" and "My Aeroplane") are more about what Americans should be like than how they actually are. And John knows this -- why else would he make such obviously contestable (even by the other songs on his own record!) statements as "I'm an American, I'm an American/I respect you and your point of view" and "There's room enough here for science to live/And there's room enough here for religion to forgive/And try to understand all the people of this land/This is our country"? Optimist, pessimist, realist or proctologist? Why, he's all THREE!

Also, there's music on this album. Guitar-driven John Cougar-sounding music! But very earnest and serious-sounding. Even the hopeful songs are completely sober and stone-faced - the only ray of humor on the record (and it's very DARK humor) is the closing track, "Heaven Is A Lonely Place." The rest wants to sound important, and generally manages to do so, even if it's the simple downhome two-chord earnestness of "The Americans." The mostly dark minor-key chord sequences aren't super-creative, but the words+music sound good together. Generally the most creative bits of music are the guitar intros and breaks, with the song-bodies concentrating on basic folk music chords and John Cougar jangle-springle. Most of the songs are midtempo, both acoustic and electric guitars are used, and some tracks are augmented by keyboards, violin and/or flute. The drums are a bit loud and boxy, but then they usually are on John Cougar albums. Female back-up singers are also in attendance, and John's voice sounds exactly like it always has.

It's not the greatest album ever or anything, but - like Neil Young's Living With War - it's one man's attempt to express his dissatisfaction with early 21st century America in an honest, critical manner. And yes, a few of the songs are corny as shit ("The Americans" and "Our Country" in particular are as melodically sickening as the similarly patriotic "This Land Is Your Land"), but he's trying to make a statement here, goddammit. Can't you shut your jaded youth piehole for a goddamned minute and let the old bag make his statement? I know you're laughing about the proximity of the words 'corn' and 'shit' in that earlier sentence, but give me a break - my head is throbbing as if a snake nipped a gash out of the pink flesh or I caught my hair in a pie oven next to a breast of chicken, and a guy by the back door is watching the boob tube and my shaving cream burst so there's white sticky cream spurting all over the place and I'm trying to screw a nail into a ball but it keeps going in and out and in and out and there's a pussycat munching on the rug and a titmouse just snatched and sucked 69 jugs of f

Reader Comments
Hi emily.
This is johnny cougar mellencamp. You can just call me johnny.
I am flattered & delighted that you chose me as the subject of your biography. Is this a school project?
I would be more than glad to send you the true accounts of my life. And as a bonus, I'll send you an autographed copy of this cd! Just send me your address, social security number, credit card # with expiration date (if you're too young to have one, look at your parent's and write it down. Don't tell them though. This is a little secret between you & me! *wink*) and a picture of you wearing your underwear.
I like guessing the color of people's underwear so I just want to see if I guessed yours right!
Hope to hear from you soon emily!

Best regards,
Your friend
Johnny Cougar Mellencamp

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Life Death Love and Freedom - Hear Music 2008
Rating = 7

Little Johnny Cougar summed up his latest record in Rolling Stone's 2008 Spring music preview issue: ""I realized our country has written some sad motherfuckin' songs. I wanted to see if I had it in me to write some motherfuckin' cocksuckin' shit like that....I cocksuckin'ly see motherfuckin' asslickin' darkness everymotherfuckin'where, and I have to whip my dick out and write about it. I don't motherfuckin' care a piece o' shit if I just sell six goddamned Jesus-ballin' records. All I can motherfuckin' do is keep on motherfuckin' writing songs and motherfuckin' singing. And fuckin' my mother."

And darkness he how! Aside from the gigantically misrepresentative first single ("My Sweet Love"), Life, Death, Guts and Pussy features the most depressing and hopeless lyrics of Mellencamp's entire 32-year career. Rather than describe, I will simply offer you a quote from each of the remaining 13 songs and let you see for yourself:

"If I die sudden
Please don't tell anyone
There ain't nobody that needs to know that I'm gone"

"Nothing lasts forever
And your best efforts don't always pay
Sometimes you get sick
And you don't get better"

"One man's eyes are full of sorrow
The other man's belly full of unbearable pain
They keep getting closer
Bring peace to this troubled land"

"Life is an abstraction
And it tries to fool us all
And it's working so far it seems"

"All my friends are sick or dying
And I'm here all by myself
All I got left is a head full of memories
And a thought of my upcoming death"

"You wouldn't know it by looking at me now
But I was showing some promise once upon a time
But it's gone now and it ain't coming back
My time's come and gone; it's as simple as that"

"So the hole gets dug deeper with every wedding bell
And we sell each other down the road until there's nothing left to sell
And slowly but surely, we disappear without a trace
We point our fingers at each other and say what the hell happened to this place"

"So what becomes of boys that cannot think straight
Particularly those with paper bag skin
Yes sir, no sir, we'll wipe that smile right off your face
We've got our rules here and you must fit in"

"Your outlook is haunting us all
Like the ghost of our love down at the dark end of the hall
If you can't say nothing good then don't say nothing at all
And you need to stop being so mean"

"Some people put no value on a human life
And there are places we all go that just ain't safe at night
If somebody would do this to me, they just might do it to you
So be careful where you go and what you say or do"

"Why do so many suffer, oppressed to the end of time
Why does freedom move so slowly, unable to speak its mind
Some say it's a circle, others think we live on the wing
Why are promises broken and some think life don't mean a thing"

"In the sweet belly of the moment when you realize you've changed
And everything you're after has gone down the drain
You're nothing more than just a drifter as you walk down your road
Not exactly the picture you thought you'd be sending home"

"One of these days my anger will get the best of my soul
In one desperate moment, I'm gonna dig me a hole
I'm gonna lie down in it and let be what will be
When the morning sun rises, there'll be no one to mourn for me"

"Hurts so good
Come on baby, make it hurts so good
Sometimes love don't feel like it should
You make it - hurts so good"

Shockingly, many of the songs feature minor chords.

John Mellencamp calls it an 'electric folk' album, and that's an accurate description. Nearly every song is driven by both acoustic and electric guitars (the latter often distorted, tremeloed and/or reverbed rockabilly-style), several are augmented by 'folksy' instruments (melodica, upright bass, shaker, mandolin, accordion, violin, field organ, woman), and only 6 of the 14 even bother with drums. Most of the compositions revolve around simple folk and folk-blues riffs, the best conjuring up a grim 'American Gothic' atmosphere reminiscent of classic Nick Cave (except for the vocals, obviously). In fact, you'd probably be forgiven for thinking these were covers of actual antique folk ballads. But that's God for you - you wouldn't believe all the "Shit he forgives!"

Heh, little joke for all the CRASS fans out there in the John Cougar fan base. Do they owe us a Small Town? 'Course they do! 'Course they do!

Speaking of the word 'course,' over the 'course' of nearly an hour, the somber folk mood can definitely start feeling a bit samey. However, John did exactly what he set out to do, and the result is surprisingly effective. The lead-off track is weak and derivative (it sounds like Pink Floyd's "Lost For Words" covered by Bruce Springsteen), the boy-girl duet "My Sweet Love" sounds almost lawsuitingly similar to the recent Robert Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration, and the controversial "Jena" is as didactic and boring as the worst '60s protest music, but otherwise get ready for some sweet sweet depression, bitterness and failure! Even when the music sounds a bit more optimistic ("A Ride Back Home," "For The Children"), the lyrics will still knock your dick in the dirt. The next screw that falls out will be you. Instead of going to prison, you'll come to this album. Someday when you're outta here and you've forgotten all about this album and it's forgotten all about you, and you're wrapped up in your own pathetic life, it's gonna be there. That's right. And it's gonna kick the living shit out of you.

Being a 'folk'-focused album, Life, Death, Radiation and Zombies is a bit too musically uninnovative for me to out-and-out love. However, it is to John's great credit that he was able to wring such compelling sorrow out of this aged and stylistically limited genre. Indeed, with the help of long-time musical companions Mike Wanchic, Miriam Sturm and Janas Hoyt, along with Freedom's Road keyboardist Troy Kinnett, producer T-Bone Burnett (Alpha Band), Grammy winner Mike Piersante (Down From The Mountain), Andy York (Ian Hunter & The Rant Band), Dennis Crouch (Time Jumpers), Karen Fairchild (Little Big Town) and Dane Clark (probably not the American film actor who died in 1998), 56-year-old John Mellencamp has with his 20th studio album managed to create that rare and wonderful beast: a unicorn.

Alright, it's not a unicorn. But I will continue praying every night for a record album that is a unicorn. GET ON IT, COLDPLAY! Your work could only benefit from having a horn shoved through it, rendering it unplayable.

Reader Comments

Actually, he should have skipped the "Life, Love and Freedom" part and gone straight to "Death" as the title, since it pervades almost every song here. As a result, as you pointed out, "My Sweet Love" is totally unconvincing and out of place. It's unrelenting. It looks like the listener gets a respite when we get to "County Fair". Here we are, a nice nostalgic tune like he used to write in the "American Fool/Scarecrow" days. Except that it ends in a murder, and it turns out that the narrator is the ghost of the deceased!

For all this, I really like the album. I'm five years younger than John, and people my age can really relate to the stark themes here. It's not about to grab him an audience of shiny new, young faces, though.

P.S. Mark, belated condolences on the passing of Henry. We lost three dogs from 2004-2008, so I know how it feels. I hope you find comfort in all the great memories you have of him.

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Life Death Live and Freedom - Hear Music 2009
Rating = 7

33 years into his career, John Cougar Bellybutton realized, "Wait a second! I've never released a live album! Can you imagine what a grand spectacle that would be? Me and my current band digging into my 19-albums-strong back catalog and performing mature yet energetic versions of hits from every phase of my career?" As such, he released a half-hour piece of crap featuring eight songs from his last album and NOTHING ELSE AT ALL. Nice plannin', "The Coug"! Keep doin' it for the fans!

Going under the assumption that you are 0% interested in purchasing this record if you don't already own Life Death Love and Freedom, I'm going to gear this review toward the .04% of you who bought that record and are eager to hear SOME BUT NOT ALL OF IT performed in a live context. The most important thing to note is that, against many odds, the live versions do sound different from the studio versions. First of all, six of these eight songs are performed in a different key than their studio counterparts. Secondly, the old, muffled and worn out acoustic guitar that gave the studio versions their sad folk feel has been replaced by a shiny clean amplified acoustic in the live versions. And thirdly through eighthly:

- "If I Die Sudden" is very different from the studio version, incorporating a completely new guitar riff and full-band rock drums.

- "Troubled Land" says 'Up your ass' to the acoustic studio version, here ripping your tear to shreds with crunchy distorted guitar.

- "Young Without Lovers" replaces the studio version's lead guitar and organ with... well, nothing. It's just John and his acoustic guitar.

- "A Ride Back Home," featured on the previous record as a full-band rocker with distorted lead guitar and guest vocalist Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town, is here presented Unplugged by Mr. Mellencamp all by his lonesome on a sad, empty stage of sorrow.

- "Jena" still blows, but no longer with an acoustic guitar.

- "My Sweet Love" features less emphasis on female vocals than its effeminate studio counterpart.

In summation, four of these performances were performed with a full band of performers, three feature "Jiffy" Johnny solo on his guitar with a hole in it, and "Don't Need This Body" (as in its studio version) features acoustic rhythm guitar and electric lead guitar, but no bass or drums.

In conclusion, the songs were recorded at four different concerts between February 6, 2008 and July 31, 2008.

If one were to pare down this record to a single thought, it would be "Come on you asshole put out a real live album." Unfortunately, the about-to-turn 58-year-old recently announced that he's finished with rock music and will concentrate mostly on folk from here on out. As he told a reporter from Black Man's Swimsuit Extra, "I didn't wanna be no pop singer. I never wanted to write no pop song." He elaborated in an interview with Paddles, sarcastically stating, "R.O.C.K. in the USA. Yeah yeah, rockin' in the USA." He further explained his 'turn for the mature' in a feature tell-all with Plumpers: "I called my preacher and said, 'Hey, give me strength for round five.' He said, 'You don't need no strength; you need to grow up, son!'" He summed it all up in an exclusive Q&A with Flava Man, stating, "I thought I was here for an interview, not a pictorial! But okay, stick Jerome's balls in my mouth."

However, if John Mellencamp has indeed caught the 'live album' bug, here are some great ideas I just came up with while drunk and asleep:

The Livesome Jubilee
Mr. Happy Go Livey
Cuttin' Lives
Live Naked
(alt. Dance Livid)
John Liver
Nothin' Matters And What If It Was In Concert

Yes, the future is blue for Little Johnny Jewel!

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No Better Than This - Rounder 2010
Rating = 4

I've been sitting here for the last 45 minutes trying to come up with a hilarious joke involving this album title, but I can't do it. There is simply no way to connect the phrase "No better than this" to the fact that this is one of the worst albums of Mellencamp's career. I thought of trying "Yeah, more like No BUTTER Than This, if you ask me!" because butter is both tasty and nutritious so the lack of butter on this record would be equivalent to the low quality of its songs. Unfortunately, the phrase "No butter than this" makes no grammatical sense.

My next idea was to take an entirely new approach and pretend that the album title was a question and I was answering it. To wit: "No Better Than This? You bet I no better than this! I'm a fountain of knowledge." But not only does that fail to address the album's near-complete lack of melodic effort -- that's not even how you spell 'know.'

Let me explain why I'm having such a "hard time" (boner) coming up with a hilarious joke involving this album title. It all started this morning when I was about to scream at my neighbors for flushing their toilet into my ear before suddenly realizing that I was just listening to this album. "What the hell is this shite?" I yelled, being British. "NOBS are better than this!" But then I couldn't think of a funny joke involving the album title.

Perhaps you can help me come up with a rip-roaring smart-farter if I tell you the specific reasons why the album is no better than this:

1. Marc Ribot and T-Bone Burnett are on it.

2. Sorry, that wasn't a reason why the CD is bad. Those guys are fine. I probably should've put that in a different list.

3. Mellencamp has lowered the bar from 'electrified folk music' (Life Death Love and Freedom) to simple 'folk music' (at least three of the 13 tracks sound like "This Land Is Your Land").

4. The songs are divided into folk, country-folk and 'boom-chicka-boom' rockabilly, which wouldn't be a problem if they weren't also divided into bland, repetitive and 'bull-shitta-bull' predictable.

6. Although the majority of the lyrics involve such hardships as missing an old flame, being stuck in a dead end town, and watching your life turn to shit, most of the music is nauseatingly happy goodtime folk.

Wait! What happened to #5? THAT WAS THE BEST ONE!!!

For historical purposes, the record was mostly recorded at Sun Studios, with John "laying down" (having sex with) three solo tracks in the First African Baptist Church, and a female violinist joining the proceedings for a single track recorded at San Antonio's Gunter Hotel (Can you imagine how pissed John must've been when the rest of the band showed up? Talk about a bunch of cock blockers! He was about to 'get some'!).

If you enjoy traditional folk melodies so much that you don't mind hearing a 400-year-old man regurgitate them (and claim songwriting credit!) in the Space Age 21st Century, then by all means buy yourself a copy of No Better Than This. But if John can really do no better than this, maybe he should --- WAIT A SECOND! THAT'S IT!

No Better Than This? Yeah, more like No Better Than PISS, if you ask me!

See, that's why I'm a top-selling record reviewer of the day and you're at home rolling around on a bed filled with money.

Reader Comments

Benjamin Burch
I see your complaints, but a FOUR, wow. I'd go for an 8 myself. It's true, the album is a bit monotonous ("Love at First Sight" especially irks the shit out of me), but it's a good one. I really like the laid back country feel of the album, even if it is too damn long, especially "Easter Eve." I really like most of the songs, but my favorites are "Save Some Time to Dream," "No Better Than This," "Coming Down the Road," "Thinking About You" and "No One Cares About Me."

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