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John Mellencamp: Plain Spoken

Conscious Americana from the former Cougar.

Now a long way from the booming rock anthems which once made him the relief-teacher Springsteen, John Mellencamp makes Leonard Cohen sound like Jessie J.

‘Anxiety and sorrow underneath my skin/Self-destruction and failure have beat my head in/I laughed out loud once – I won’t do that again,’ sighs this ‘troubled man’, speaking directly to the residual blue-collar everymen of Bruce’s parish. He’s been ploughing this downbeat furrow for some years, with T Bone Burnett producing his last two albums. This, his 22nd, is self-helmed, and launches a paradigm-shifting “lifetime” recording contract.

It’s a collection of shuffling, stripped-down country-blues arrangements (with plentiful fiddles), addressing big issues in intimate manner. There are social concerns, a moan about digital music theft, and a love song in which a character’s wife is dying. Mellencamp also faces the end of his own 18-year marriage in Tears In Vain.

You can’t deny his commitment, and if the music’s a bit uniform it’d sound great scoring a scene in Sons Of Anarchy.

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.