Mellencamp disappoints for eighth time in career

By Derek Wright

John Mellencamp has always been as confusing as he is boring.

On his eighth LP (his 13th counting the John Cougar Mellencamp days, and his 20th including the John Cougar era), he continues the rugged balladeering that has become his worn-out trademark.

What has never made sense about Mellencamp, though, is his confusing desire to be taken seriously as both a sensitive songsmith and a battered tough guy. He’s like a character from a soap opera – the farm boy from a small town in Indiana who chain-smokes, rides a Harley and has a tendency for erratic behavior…but is also a tender songwriter prone to penning tunes about love and broken hearts. As cheesy as it would be on “Days of Our Lives,” it’s even more trite in reality on “Freedom’s Road.”

Spearheaded by the track “Our Country” – which has corresponded with NBC “Sunday Night Football” all season – the 55-year-old Hoosier follows the same formula as previous career-makers like “Pink Houses” and “I Need A Lover.” His ability to channel Middle America’s need for a purpose has always been his staple. Mellencamp finds a way to tap into truck drivers’ love of the open road, soccer moms’ secret nightclub desires, senior citizens’ nostalgia for what never was, as well as every demographic in between all with the same acoustic chords.

It’s why his music can soundtrack a foul-mouthed auto body shop, while at the same time is safe for a church youth group field trip. And “Freedom’s Road” is no different. These 10 blue-collar stories are just manly enough to give toughness a purpose, but just soul-baring enough to hint Mellencamp might shed a tear every now and then.

In short, it’s as middle-of-the-road as possible. In fact, the artwork for this release might as well have been asphalt painted with yellow street lines. It would have saved everyone the time it took to figure out that’s exactly where this record lands.