This release was surrounded by a scary amount of hype. And the Chevy commercials on TV that forced “Our Country” down our throats seemed a harbinger of bad things.
Mellencamp, of course, can be a bit caustic, but he is too good a songwriter for that to interfere. Is this a political record? Yes. But it’s more about social and personal issues. There’s no bashing of the Bush administration except on the wonderful hidden track, “Rodeo Clowns.” Instead, Mellencamp writes about the changing landscape on songs like “Ghost Towns Along the Highway.” The atmospheric music perfectly matches the melancholy of the lyric. “The Americans” was tough to figure out. Sung from the point of view of a fellow who believes himself to be the perfect citizen, he is tolerant and helps wherever he can. At first, it might may seem sarcastic. But really, it’s an idealized version of what Mellencamp would like us all, including himself, to be. “Our Country” actually fares much better in the context of the album, with all verses intact, than it does on the Chevy ads. Longtime fans will love “My Aeroplane,” which, plain and simple, sounds like a John Mellencamp song. “Rural Route” is spooky, while “Heaven is a Lonely Place” offers a great garage-band feel and fine vocal. It also features the intertwining guitars of Mike Wanchic and Andy York. As on much of the record, the guitar tones are drenched in reverb and are always there, but never in your face, and on every listen, you hear something new going on with the guitars. It’s subtle, but the arrangements quickly get under your skin.
This kind of stuff is no longer in vogue with radio or record buyers. But here’s hoping Mellencamp will find a wide audience, not because of the message, but because of the art attached to that message.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May. ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.