December 16, 2013

Review: John Mellencamp - 1978-2012

“Hold onto sixteen as long as you can,” John Mellencamp encouraged in “Jack and Diane,” arguably his most familiar song. “Changes come around real soon, make us women and men.” 

Such moments when idealism and reality intersect, along with the myriad consequences they portend, have informed Mellencamp’s music throughout his entire forty-year career. Such moments populate a staggering new nineteen-disc, career-spanning box set which collects all of the irascible Indiana rocker’s albums to date (in all of his namesakes, from Johnny Cougar to John Mellencamp and variations in between), 1978-2012

In illustrating the full arc of Mellencamp’s artistry, the set also shows a running paradox in his songwriting, with a sort-of self-absorbed, don’t-give-a-fuck bravado in songs like “Hurts So Good,” “Lovin' Mother Fo Ya,” and “Get a Leg Up” expressed alongside more socially conscious perspectives in things like “Rain on the Scarecrow,” “Love and Happiness,” and “Peaceful World,” often on the same album. In his latter-day works, including No Better Than This and Life, Love, Live, & Freedom, Mellencamp has moved from a rock/pop style toward more of a folk/ sound, and while moments like “Love At First Sight” and “Don't Forget About Me” suggest he’s mellowed a bit in his carnal knowledge, others like “Jena” and “Troubled Land” demonstrate he’s as passionate as ever in voicing his sociopolitical views.

The one thing that could’ve made this gargantuan set even better—and certainly more comprehensive—is yet another disc, comprising previously released rarities, soundtrack cuts, and live tracks—covers of “Jailhouse Rock” (from Honeymoon in Vegas) and “Baby Please Don’t Go” (from Blue Chips); “Like a Rolling Stone” from Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert—but such is but a negligible and perhaps gluttonous complaint. Nearly all of Mellencamp’s music is here, of course, and offering it en masse like this is a laudable feat.