John Mellencamp: No Better Than This

Former teen idol completes trip to the roots of Americana.

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Mellencamp is not a man to do things by halves. Perhaps touring with Godfathers of Americana, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan, doubled his quest to seek out an authentic setting on his second album with illustrious producer T Bone Burnett.

Whatever the reason, recording with a 55-year-old Ampex Reel To Reel recorder in such landmark music rooms as Sun Studios, Memphis and the San Antonio hotel room where blues pioneer Robert Johnson was first captured on tape helps summon the ghosts addressed in his songs. The spare arrangements allow musical colours – blues, downhome country, hot club Jazz – to shine through.

But it’s as a songwriter for the new Depression that Mellencamp really makes his mark, packing sexy interludes and humorous asides into essentially hardluck strewn, dark-hearted sagas. Stripping away excess dressing highlights a true craftsman with No One Cares About Me or the wonderful Easter Eve, prime examples of the timeless songwriting on an album that rings down the years to address both past and present.

No Better Than This - Official Video

No Better Than This – album trailer

Gavin Martin

Late NME, Daily Mirror and Classic Rock writer Gavin Martin started writing about music in 1977 when he published his hand-written fanzine Alternative Ulster in Belfast. He moved to London in 1980 to become the NME’s Media Editor and features writer, where he interviewed the Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer, Pete Townshend, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Ian Dury, Killing Joke, Neil Young, REM, Sting, Marvin Gaye, Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, James Brown, Willie Nelson, Willie Dixon, Madonna and a host of others. He was also published in The Times, Guardian, Independent, Loaded, GQ and Uncut, he had pieces on Michael Jackson, Van Morrison and Frank Sinatra featured in The Faber Book Of Pop and Rock ’N’ Roll Is Here To Stay, and was the Daily Mirror’s regular music critic from 2001. He died in 2022.