Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Album Review: John Mellencamp- Plain Spoken

John Mellencamp
Plain Spoken
**** out of *****
We at Rock The Body Electric must cop to a musical curiosity…a slight detour for our readers who have grown accustomed to us praising tomorrow’s hipsters and yesterday’s rebels…we are extreme fans of John Cougar Mellencamp…and find it something near criminal that the tyrants at Microsoft not only label “Mellencamp” a misspelled word – with that sanctimonious squiggly orange underline – but also offer “no spelling suggestions.” 

Mellencamp, we believe, should be granted a rhetorical exception – the kind of one-off bestowed upon the likes of Lincoln or Eisenhower. And the fact that none of the engineers in Redmond, Washington saw fit to make room for Mellencamp strikes us as so incredibly typical of the technocrats. Technology has transformed this once-sensual country into a land of dead souls, stall-pissers and idle neurotics. Yet as its counterpoint, still among us despite that four pack a day habit, stands Mellencamp, a man who – years ago, while the Western World cheered the Internet and the “End of History” – noted that “The Internet is worse than the Atomic Bomb.”…a prophesy he recently revisited in an interview with Time Magazine.

There has always been a guru-like quality in the acrid interviews and simple songwriting of John Cougar Mellencamp. His is the unique power of prophesy, and one that is often obscured by a commercial reputation for producing hokey radio staples full of cowbells and tales of America. As a thinker, he is precise. As a songwriter, we honor the fact that he has never been pulled over for chasing his last album. Yes, he may have written the cornstalk gems of "Jack and Diane", "Little Pink Houses" and "Hurts So Good", becoming a victim of their place as insta-80s-classics, but he also penned the hauntingly melodramatic "Small Paradise" and that grand 1978 guitar anthem, a masterpiece on intergender relationships – "I Need A Lover".

Amid a lifetime as an American oracle, nothing quite foretold of Mellencamp’s three divorces like his romantic psalm—

I need a lover who won’t drive me crazy,
Some girl to thrill me, and then go away;
I need a lover who won’t drive me crazy,
Some girl that knows the meaning of a,
Hey hit the highway
Brilliant stuff. The reason why, whenever we are befuddled by the narrow walls of modernity, we ask ourselves “What would JCM do?” And the most common answer is “Light a smoke and get behind something that still takes leaded gasoline.” 

All of this is to say that John Mellencamp’s latest album Plain Spoken is a step into the superb. It’s a stripped-down, man-staring into his casket moment of truth. With the sole exception of the closing, twangy "Lawless Times", the entire album – and yes, this is an album in the ancient sense – sounds as if it were recorded around a campfire in the Western Theater of the Civil War…with someone handing U.S. Grant a guitar on the eve of Shiloh.

The opening track "Troubled Man" is now all over satellite radio, and yet this dark and agreeable ballad is a lighthearted prequel to what follows. The song "Sometimes There’s God" slips the bonds of religion and becomes an elegant shrug – capturing the tenor of the old working class religion that has been lost in mega-churches and televangelists. In recording this, Mellencamp steals back a little of the decency and quiet stoicism that once belonged to American Christianity, when it lived as a solitary question with inconsistent answers; when “God” was the thing you said when nothing else fit.

Yet far and away Mellencamp reserved his best material on Plain Spoken for "The Isolation of Mister". At five-and-a-half minutes, this reflective roadmap of the male mind is the most honest piece of songwriting we’ve heard in a decade. At first listen, you think you’ve heard it before…from Cash…from Dylan…but "The Isolation of Mister" is pure Mellencamp, a notorious recluse who lives alone on a farm in Indiana, emerging only “for supplies” or to duck into Manhattan for (until recently) some Meg Ryan time. Amid a dozen classic lines, he sings—
Always felt like sorrow was a lesson,
Always felt I needed to feel the pain;
I thought happiness was a transgression,
And I took it as it came.
With this gem, like so many that have fallen from his solitary pen and guitar, the man from Indiana keeps demonstrating that in an age of coastal living, America’s great artists continue to keep counsel of the heartland.
Support the artist here, buy the album here and peep some video below:

"Troubled Man"

"The Isolation of Mister" Live


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