Album review: John Mellencamp, Freedom’s Road (2007)

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MARCH 15, 2007

By Steve Newton

The release of John Mellencamp’s latest CD, Freedom’s Road, caused quite the media frenzy in the States. He showed up on all the TV talk shows, plugging the disc on hip programs like The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and unhip ones like Charlie Rose. I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about, though, because Freedom’s Road is no Whenever We Wanted.

Never heard of that album, you say? You’re not alone. Released in 1991 at the beginning of the grunge revolution, the CD was roundly ignored by radio programmers and the record-buying public, but its 10 short, sharp tracks were Stones-y guitar-rock at its most beautiful and bare. Despite all the hype, Mellencamp’s new disc’s not in the same league.

Freedom’s Road resembles a low-rent version of his rootsy 1987 outing, The Lonesome Jubilee, which brought in more acoustic instrumentation to deliver a folksy feel. It kicks off smartly with “Someday”, vintage Mellencamp with melodic hooks aplenty and a message of hope, but by the time you hit Track 3, “The Americans”, that forced heartland jive of “Pink Houses” and “Jack & Diane” asserts itself.

We get it, dude: you’re in touch with your country and its shortcomings.

On the other U.S.–obsessed track, “Our Country”, Mellencamp decries the backlash against freedom that Dubya and his White House cronies have instilled, but he saves his most vitriolic attack for a hidden song tacked on at the end of the CD. “Well there’s blood on the hands of the rich politicians/Red is the colour of the sand and the sea/Blood on the hands of an arrogant nation.”

Although Freedom’s Road is overrated, you come away from it feeling like Mellencamp’s heart is in the right place. Then again, what’s with those TV ads using “Our Country” to flog Chevy Silverados?

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