“Plain Spoken,” the new album from John Mellencamp, is a continuation of the rock singer’s folk-driven music. The album marks the fouth collaboration between Mellencamp and legendary producer, T Bone Burnett, and is the first to feature Mellencamp as the main producer, with Burnett as executive producer. The album also breaks new ground in the recording industry, being the first of an unheard-of lifetime recording contract between Mellencamp and Republic Records.
The album cover is just as plain spoken as the music, made to look like an old record jacket. In the middle of it all stands a relaxed Mellencamp, a good indicator of what lies beneath the cover.
The album opens with the first single, “Troubled Man,” a slightly autobiographical song. The lyrics mirror many aspects of Mellencamp’s long life and career. “Too late came too early for me to face my sins. I am a troubled man.”
Electric guitars and loud drums have been traded for stripped-down acoustic arrangements, a path Mellencamp has taken, throughout the past few years.
“Sometimes There’s God” is the first song on the album to mix new folk elements with Mellencamp’s classic sound.
Mellencamp makes the best of the lower range he now has with his vocals, a problem he’s attributed in the past to his refusal to quit smoking cigarettes.
Mellencamp’s aspiration to be held within the circle of great American songwriters shows on this album, with several songs taking on a Bob Dylan arrangement, such as “The Courtesy Of Kings.”
“The Brass Ring” takes a slightly different path, sounding more like a Bruce Springsteen song. The song speaks of how society views death.
“The Company of Cowards” is one of the few social commentaries on the album, with Mellencamp dancing vaguely around the message until the third verse, which calls out politicians as “the company of cowards.”
“Freedom of Speech” is a surprisingly positive social commentary, with Mellencamp promoting the expression of all views rather than just his own. It’s inspirational lyrics remind the listener that everyone has the “freedom to believe we can all be kings.”
“The Isolation of Mister” is a rare love song from Mellencamp, telling the story of a breakup, perhaps relating to Mellencamp’s recent split from actress, Meg Ryan.
“Lawless Times,” a bluesdriven number, closes the album. Fittingly, Mellencamp and the band break out the electric guitars for this song, sending the album out on a high note.
“Plain Spoken” is not the John Mellencamp of the ’80s. It’s a new Mellencamp, but the attitude and message stays the same, and it hurts just as good as it ever did.
“Plain Spoken” is available in stores and online now. For more information, visit www.mellencamp.com.