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Rock - Released January 1, 2010 | New Rounder

Distinctions 4 étoiles Rock and Folk - Sélection Les Inrocks
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The first thing that grabs the listener about John Mellencamp's No Better Than This is its sound: mono -- recorded live to an Ampex 601 tape recorder circa 1955, with a single microphone without mixing or overdubs. It's warmth and presence are immediate and engulfing. Mellencamp and T-Bone Burnett cut the album while on tour supporting, Life Death Love and Freedom, Mellencamp's celebrated precursor. This album was cut in some very famous locales: First African Baptist Church in Savannah, GA (the first African American Christian church in North America), Sun Studios in Memphis, and in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, TX, where Robert Johnson recorded "Stones in My Passway" in 1936. While Mellencamp's last album was celebrated for its wonderfully crafted songs, it nonetheless reflected Burnett's dictatorially heavy-handed production style. This set feels far more like the artist. The songs are rooted in country, rockabilly, folk, country-gospel, and an even rawer Midwestern rock--Mellencamp's brand. The band is equal parts his standard road group and Burnett's studio crew, but the latter plays more of a supporting role than a guiding one; this set, with its brilliantly pruned songwriting, is Mellencamp at his focused best. 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. "Love at First Sight," with Mellencamp accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, is among the finest love songs he's ever written. "Don't Forget About Me" is a country ballad that acts as its mirror image and resonates deeply. He may be looking back at some earlier styles of music that influenced him, but these songs feel invigorated, unfettered; melodically and lyrically astute. He possesses an independent streak in abundance; he is making music only for himself now; as a result, he's in a league of his own. No Better Than This proves that good songs need very little to communicate instructive narratives and complex emotions, and that primitive recording methods are still sometimes the best ones. [The album is also available on vinyl.] ~ Thom Jurek
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Rock - Released May 11, 2018 | Eagle Rock Entertainment

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Rock - Released December 7, 2018 | Republic Records

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Rock - Released April 28, 2017 | John Mellencamp PS

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Sad Clowns & Hillbillies marks the first time in a decade that a John Mellencamp studio record finds him in the producer's chair. It's the first time ever that he's shared billing on an album cover. Carlene Carter is a singer/songwriter and music biz veteran; the daughter of country music royalty -- Carl Smith and June Carter Cash -- making her the stepdaughter of Johnny. She and Mellencamp worked together on 2012's Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, the musical theater project he scored for Stephen King; they collaborated further on the soundtrack for Ithaca -- the "Sugar Hill Mountain" reprised here is one of a handful of excellent duets between them. Things don't begin well, however. Mellencamp's attempt at Mickey Newbury's "Mobile Blue" (from his classic 'Frisco Mabel Joy album) is utterly dull despite using a full band driven by Miriam Sturm's excellent fiddling. "Battle of Angels" hearkens back to the songwriter's Lonesome Jubilee/Big Daddy period, and works like a charm. It's got everything: A killer hook, a poetic lyric, and a gritty vocal. Martina McBride appears as his duet partner on first single "Grandview," a rocking paean to trailer parks -- -- though guest guitarist Izzy Stradlin almost steals the show with a greasy blues-rock shuffle and break. "Indigo Sunset," the first duet between the headliners -- is kicked off by Carter's soulful country contralto. She frames the lyric's haunted loneliness while Mellencamp's grainy rasp -- framed by B-3, mandolin, fiddle, and guitars -- balances perfectly to bring it home. "All Night Talk Radio" is classic Mellencamp: Its dark vision is painted in compelling, ironic, and dark imagery packaged as in a taut, acoustic rocker. Morally, he should share the royalties for "You Are Blind" with Leonard Cohen's estate: A careful listen reveals that the strategic manner of stacking images and metaphors to draw out the last syllables bears the unmistakable imprint of the late songwriter's classic "Suzanne." Carter's soaring lead opening the duet of the rocking blues-gospel of "Damascus Road" is another set highlight. That theme also guides "My Soul's Got Wings," with Mellencamp's melody and chart accompanying a Woody Guthrie lyric -- Carter's command of the country church vernacular (after all, she sang with her mom in the Carter Family) lights the fuse for Mellencamp -- no stranger himself to rural Sunday services -- and he brings it home. While the words in closer "An Easy Target" rank among Mellencamp's most politically charged and socially arresting, his faux Tom Waits' delivery blunts the tune’s impact a bit, but it's too powerful to be completely buried under a stylistic mistake. While Sad Clowns & Hillbillies is a bit of a mixed bag, it's better than all of his other records that bear that mark (Dance Naked, Whenever We Wanted, Rough Harvest, et. al). It puts all his strengths -- excellent original songs, unforced arrangements, and (mostly) inspired performances -- on full display. Well, almost. Because Carter's dynamic presence here, and the pair's unmistakable chemistry, lift this album above the ordinary. ~ Thom Jurek
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Pop - Released January 1, 1997 | UMOD (Universal Music On Demand)

The Best That I Could Do is an appropriately self-deprecating title for John Mellencamp's greatest-hits collection, considering that the heartland rocker never seemed too convinced of his own worth. Of course, he had to struggle to get any respect after he was saddled with the stage name Johnny Cougar early in his career, but this 14-track collection proves that he was one of the best, unabashed straight-ahead rockers of the '80s. The 14 tracks here actually turn out to be a little too short to contain all of his great singles -- songs like "Rain on the Scarecrow," "Rumbleseat," "Pop Singer," "Again Tonight," and "What If I Came Knocking" are left off the collection (there's nothing from 1988's Big Daddy at all) -- but it's hard to argue with what's here. Over the course of the collection, such classic rock hits as "I Need a Lover," "Hurts So Good," "Jack and Diane," "Crumblin' Down," "Pink Houses," "Lonely Ol' Night," "Small Town," "Paper in Fire," "Cherry Bomb," and "Check It Out" are chronicled, with a new cover of Terry Reid's "Without Expression" added for good measure. It may fall short of being definitive, but only by a small margin, and it remains an excellent overview and introduction to Mellencamp's remarkably consistent body of work. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 2010 | Island Def Jam

Only John Mellencamp, whose career began with a series of wrong turns, raw determination, and the audaciousness to demand he be taken seriously could create a box set as strange, representative, and labyrinthine as On the Rural Route 7609. In the era of the “track,” Mellencamp has issued a massive, beautifully packaged, and exhaustively annotated four-disc career retrospective that doesn’t lean on his hits (many aren’t here), but rather on more obscure album cuts, outtakes, rarities (17 selections make their debuts here), and more recent material -- numerous selections come from 2007’s Freedom’s Road and 2008’s Life Love Death and Freedom. In Anthony DeCurtis' excellent liner essay/interview, Mellencamp claims he isn’t “trying to prove anything. . . it was a way for them to discover songs of mine that perhaps were overlooked because of the songs that were so popular on the radio.” Given his choice of material, he may not feel that his career-long demand has been met yet. The address in the title of On the Rural Route 7609 denotes his recording span: 1976-2009, to date. The box isn’t structured chronologically, but as four free standing albums, each with its own flavor and themes. In the hardbound book-like package, Mellencamp’s and DeCurtis’ comments illustrate each track. Disc one opens with "Longest Days.” Like many of its songs, it deals with death; in this case, his grandmother’s. She makes her own ghostly appearance, singing on the next track! “Rural Route” is next up, a song signifying another side of “Small Town” America (the song isn’t here), where the "air stinks of crystal meth,” as it relates a tale of murder and rape. (It’s a helluva way to open a box set.) Throughout -- in “Jackie Brown,” an alternate “Rain on the Scarecrow,” two versions of “Jim Crow” (one read by Cornell West) -- Mellencamp reveals American darkness and violence, followed by Mellencamp's themes of personal accountability and consequence -- “Big Daddy of Them All,” an alternate “Deep Blue Heart” with Trisha Yearwood, “Forgiveness,” and “Don’t Need This Body." It closes with the burden of nostalgia for simpler times: an early tape of “Jenny at 16,” the model for “Jack and Diane,” is followed by the writing demo for the song and the album version. Disc two begins with Joanne Woodward reading the lyrics to “The Real Life,” and ends with the ironic “Pink Houses.” This disc is about the conflicting perceptions of America’s inhabitants; about what it actually is as its national consciousness changes: a writing demo for “Authority Song,” "The Full Catastrophe" (written for Johnny Cash), “To Washington,” the demo of “Our Country,” and “Rodeo Clown” underscore this. Disc three reflects Mellencamp’s personal side with an acoustic ”Void in My Heart” and “Sugar Marie” (redone), a demo for “Cherry Bomb,” a remixed “L.U.V.,” the single version of “When Jesus Left America,” “Thank You” from a 2004 hits collection, and a new cut, “Some Day the Rains Will Fall.” Disc four concerns itself with memory, regret, acceptance, and the fleeting nature of life. Among its rarities are his version of “Colored Lights” (written for the Blasters), a demo for “Peaceful World,” an acoustic “To M.G. (Wherever She May Be),” and an alternate, scarier “Rural Route.” Musically, there are no missteps; for all its winding paths and circles within circles, On Rural Route 7609 makes its case and perhaps sets a new standard for career retrospectives. Mellencamp is undoubtedly among the best rock & roll American singer/songwriters -- on or off the charts. The question is, does he believe it? ~ Thom Jurek
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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Def Jam West

John Cougar's first albums were so bereaved of strong material that the lean swagger of American Fool came as a shock. The difference is evident from the opening song, "Hurts So Good," a hard, Stonesy rocker with an irresistibly sleazy hook. Cougar never wrote anything as catchy as this before, nor had his romantic vision of small-town America resonated like it did on "Jack & Diane," a minor and remarkably affecting sketch of dead-end romance. These two songs are the only true keepers on American Fool, but the rest of the record works better than his previous material because his band is tighter than ever before, making his weaker moments convincing. Besides, songs like "Hand to Hold On To" and "China Girl," for all their faults, do indicate that his sense of craft is improving considerably. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Hear Music

After making much of his artistic integrity and opposition to corporate interference for most of his career, John Mellencamp prefaced his previous album, 2007's Freedom's Road, by licensing one of its songs, "Our Country," for use in a television commercial for a truck. The broad exposure for the brief excerpt from the song helped give him his first singles chart entry in eight years, a one-week appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 88; it's not clear how many trucks it may have helped sell. There don't seem to be any songs on Mellencamp's 23rd album, Life Death Love and Freedom, that could be used to sell products. The choruses of songs like "Longest Days" ("Life is short, even in its longest days") and "John Cockers" ("I ain't got no friends") just don't seem to lend themselves to association with shopping of any kind. And maybe that's the point. Mellencamp's second consecutive album to use the word "Freedom" in the title is really the 56-year-old singer/songwriter's reflection on the lack of freedom, along with a life that seems to be almost over, love still idealized (the Buddy Holly-like "odd song out" here, "My Sweet Love"), and death, plenty of death. Musically, Mellencamp seems to have been listening closely to the first five Bob Dylan albums, paying more attention to the first of them, the largely traditional, folk-blues-styled Bob Dylan, than the last, the folk-rock Bringing It All Back Home. "If I Die Sudden," for example, has much of the feel and sound of "In My Time of Dyin'" on Bob Dylan. But unlike the young Dylan, who probably sang such songs without any direct consciousness of his own mortality, the aging Mellencamp, who has survived one heart attack already, brings real conviction to his reflections on death. Unfortunately, he is not much reconciled to it. He looks back regretfully on his heedless youth, and he has the sense not only that he personally has failed to fulfill his promise, but that the world he sees around him has declined instead of improving. "Everything you were after has gone down the drain," he laments in the concluding track, "A Brand New Song." This follows "For the Children," in which he attempted to muster some hope for the next generation, managing the conclusion, "All I can do is my best and be thankful for what we've got." In truth, the forced pessimism of these songs is consistent for an artist who titled an early album Nothin' Matters and What If It Did and sang, in the chorus of his most famous song, "Jack & Diane," "Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone." Now, however, he is able to invest it with an assumption of experienced, mature wisdom. Yet it remains as much about him as it is about the world he sees around him. [Life Death Love and Freedom was the first release to include a disc in the CODE format, a new technology playable on most DVD players.] ~ William Ruhlmann
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Pop/Rock - Released September 4, 1998 | Columbia

Although Mercury Records had delivered five consecutive platinum albums for John Mellencamp, he left the label in 1997, complaining about its inability to break hit singles for him anymore, and signed to Columbia Records. His self-titled label debut, issued the day before his 47th birthday, seemed intended to mark a new beginning for an artist who had managed more than one career rebirth. Commercially, it did not fulfill that ambition, becoming his worst seller in 19 years. Artistically, it represented not so much a new Mellencamp as another Mellencamp album. The musical style remained firmly rooted in 1966 pop/rock (you had to figure the man's personal jukebox included songs like Los Bravos' "Black Is Black," Donovan's "Sunshine Superman," and the Rolling Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown"), despite a few interludes of unusual instrumentation (like what Brian Jones used to bring to the Stones). Lyrically, Mellencamp continued to preach an unearned pessimism that he seemed to hope would be mistaken for thoughtfulness. Still obsessed with being taken seriously, he continued to think that the best way to achieve that was to sound serious, and he did, on Biblical treatises like "Fruit Trader" and "Eden Is Burning" and simple-minded philosophical statements like "Your Life Is Now." But the album's best material was found in songs he probably thought of as throwaways, the catchy Caribbean rhythm number "I'm Not Running Anymore" (which could have been a hit single) and the best of the romantic tunes, "Miss Missy," songs that were actually about something. If he really wanted to reinvent himself again (and ignite his record sales), he would have been better advised to invest his music with more of this sense of fun -- dare we say it? -- to put a little Johnny Cougar back into John Mellencamp. ~ William Ruhlmann
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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Island Def Jam

Since American Fool illustrated that John Cougar was becoming an actual songwriter, it's only proper that he reclaimed his actual last name, Mellencamp, for the follow-up, Uh-Huh. After all, now that he had success, he wanted to be taken seriously, and Uh-Huh reflects that in its portraits of brokenhearted life in the Midwest and its rumbling undercurrent of despair. Although his lyrics still have the tendency to be a little too vague, they are more effective here than ever before, as is his music; he might not have changed his style at all -- it's still a fusion of the Stones and Springsteen -- except that he now knows how to make it his own. Uh-Huh runs out of steam toward the end, but the first half -- with the dynamic rocker "Crumblin' Down," his best protest song, "Pink Houses," the punky "Authority Song," the melancholy "Warmer Place to Sleep," and the garage rocker "Play Guitar" -- makes the record his first terrific album. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 1979 | Island Def Jam

Once "I Need a Lover" became an Australian hit, Riva in America decided to release John Cougar's eponymous fourth album, adding the song to the record as well. Essentially, John Cougar is sonically similar to A Biography, but apart from the tacked-on "I Need a Lover," none of the songs hit the mark. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released October 19, 2004 | Island Def Jam

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Rock - Released January 1, 2007 | Mellencamp Our Country

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Rock - Released December 7, 2018 | Republic Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Def Jam West

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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Island Def Jam

One year after John Cougar's "I Need a Lover" gave him his first hit single, Cougar released Nothin' Matters and What if It Did, an album which began to unravel his fondness for small-town simplicity and the pride that is inherited from being brought up in America's heartland. Each song from the album characterizes Cougar's non-threatening, rebellious farm-boy attitude, from the Springsteen-like overtones of "Wild Angel" to the pleading gentleness of "Don't Misunderstand Me." "This Time," carried through with its jubilant, bouncy pace and countrified vocal style, hit number 27 in 1980, with the sultry yet rustic innocence of "Ain't Even Done With the Night" climbing ten spots higher as the album's second single. A good feel for Cougar's passive yet warm approach to rock & roll can be found on Nothin' Matters, even within the lyrics of minor efforts like "Hot Night in a Cold Town" or "To M.G." Following this album was his monumental American Fool release, a solid package for Cougar and one that Nothin' Matters played the prototype for. ~ Mike DeGagne
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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Island Def Jam

Since neither Chestnut Street Incident or The Kid Inside generated much attention, John Cougar's third album, A Biography, wasn't released in America. Ironically, it was his best effort yet, featuring a harder and genuinely rocking backbeat and, in the silly but catchy "I Need a Lover," his first good song. The rest of the album didn't even come close to matching those heights, yet the song indicated that Mellencamp had talent -- he just wasn't sure how to access it. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released June 30, 2017 | John Mellencamp PS

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Pop/Rock - Released October 16, 2001 | Columbia

John Mellencamp is nearly the Rodney Dangerfield of rock & roll, getting no respect no matter how much he may deserve it. Throughout the '90s, Mellencamp essentially worked away from the spotlight, crafting a series of solid records without anyone paying attention. He had the occasional hit -- a cover of Van Morrison's "Wild Night," the subtly insistent "Key West Intermizzo (I Saw You First)" -- but he was no longer part of the rock critic discourse the way he was in the '80s with Scarecrow and The Lonesome Jubilee. Such neglect actually helped Mellencamp grow, as his 2001 effort, Cuttin' Heads, proves. This may not be a record that brings chart success, or even critical acclaim, but it does find Mellencamp at a kind of peak, turning out vividly socially conscious roots rock that works not because of the message, but because the music is seductive and sinewy enough to deliver the message. The grooves and riffs are earthy, so much so that when Chuck D drops a rap at the bridge in the title track, it seems natural, not forced; similarly, India.Arie's presence on "Peaceful World" enhances the plea for understanding at the core of the album, instead of distracting from it, and it feels as right as Trisha Yearwood's duet on "Deep Blue Heart." Ultimately, this is a record of small, subtle triumphs, but they are triumphs all the same, finding Mellencamp crafting music that's earthy yet succeeds because of the small details. It's a laid-back record -- even when it rocks hard, it rocks like a bunch of guys having fun on a back porch on a Saturday afternoon -- but that's its charm, since it's natural, real, and unassuming: in short, the kind of record Mellencamp's been trying to make since he shed the Johnny Cougar tag. No, there aren't songs as undeniable as "Lonely Ol' Night" or "Rumble Seat," but there are no slow stretches and it's a true testament to his talents as a craftsman, which is more than enough. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released January 1, 2006 | Mellencamp Our Country

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