About a year ago, we wrote a rather tepid review covering the latest from pop folk rocker John Mellencamp, entitled “Life Death Love and Freedom” (click here to refresh your memory). Mellencamp is back already with a new release, but not new material. As the name obviously implies, “Life, Death, LIVE And Freedom” simply features live versions of eight of the tunes we’ve experienced on “Life Death Love and Freedom”. The big question that comes to mind of course is WHY?
The answer is that a live performance usually breathes new life into songs. “Life Death Love and Freedom” was an unmelodious and dark reflection on the topics in its title, and it made for a pretty uneasy and dull studio recording. However, “Life, Death, LIVE And Freedom” gives Mellencamp the opportunity to redeem himself on some of the tracks and he seizes this opportunity. Mellencamp remains an outstanding live performer and he takes no prisoners on these gritty tracks, catapulting some of these tunes to a whole new level. In most cases, he is like a doctor injecting a powerful shot of medicine into a comatose song, bringing it back to the land of the living with a vengeance. Case in point are the tracks, “If I Die Sudden” and “Jena” – I was less than thrilled with the studio originals, but the live versions are fantastic. In contrast, some of the tracks, including “My Sweet Love”, sound much better on the studio release than this live release to me. Finally, there are some that sound good whether recorded live or in the studio (the excellent “Longest Days”).
I wish they would have made this a companion piece that was included in the original release rather than a stand alone product; I can’t imagine anyone but the most devoted fan purchasing this CD, and it is going to do next to nothing to help Mellencamp climb the charts once again. However, it is an important artistic piece from an enduring legend in rock music who is not afraid to explore the more disquieting aspects of life, in which pop music just isn’t an appropriate backdrop.
iPOD-worthy: 1, 4, 7