Life, Death, Love and Freedom
4.5 out of 5 stars
John Mellencamp once wrote a brilliant, often overlooked song called “Pop-Singer” that summed up his distaste for the pretty boy, hit machine image that has shaded parts of his career. With his new album, Mellencamp puts the theories of that song into action. There are no pop sensible, unit-shifting, truck hawking songs to be found on Life, Death, Love and Freedom.
That’s far from a bad thin, as anyone who has been paying attention knew that Mellencamp had been promising that he was working on what would be a “dark” collection of songs. That’s because Mellencamp has the mark of a great songwriter: he is a barometer for the world around him.
The songs on Life, Death, Love and Freedom are haunting and stripped down, with the most moving being the controversial “Jena,” a song that comments on the racially charged trial of the “Jena Six” in Louisiana that sparked civil rights protests and charges of modern-day racism. Songs like “For the Children” and “Troubled Land” continue in the same vein with their tales of warning. Add to that the excellent production of T-Bone Burnett — hot off his stunning work with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss — and you’ve got one of the most important collections of songs this year.
The fact is, Mellencamp is great at writing toe-tapping anthems, as he does on the album’s sole upbeat track and first single, “My Sweet Love,” but he also excels at kicking people into awareness when needed and that is exactly what he accomplishes here.
— DJ Hippie