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John Mellencamp - Cuttin' Heads Print E-mail
Tuesday, 16 October 2001
Cuttin' Heads,
Columbia Records, 2001
| Performance 9 | Sound 9 |

Image The Midwest farm belt of Indiana is probably the last place you'd ever expect to see give birth to an anti-racism crusader, but the title track of John Mellencamp's new album opens with a socially aware rant called "Cuttin' Heads," which features a bigger-than-life bellowing rap from the Black CNN, Public Enemy's Chuck D.

"Racism lives in the U.S. today," reminds "Peaceful World," which continues this album’s underlying theme of racial reconciliation. "Better get hip to what Martin Luther King had to say." (The listener just sighs, "It’s about time.")

Such statements have taken on a whole new meaning, now that every person with even the hint of Middle Eastern facial features is suddenly drawing suspicious looks.

Mellencamp has always been patriotic (in the very best sense of the word), whether standing up for the farmer with Farm Aid every year, or making music about the little pink houses that hold a good chunk of the American public, as well as the American spirit, for that matter.

America is not, as some might wrongly assert, a near-perfect nation on a gilded pedestal. Instead, it's "some kind of crazy island," as "Crazy Island" rightly states. The song goes on to detail how this national bundle of contradictions finds room for salesmanship and salaries, as well as handguns and heresies.

"Crazy Island" sports banjo in its mix, and "Deep Blue Heart" is softened by gentle fiddle, along with Mellencamp's duet partner Trisha Yearwood. This is a reminder that, though Mellencamp may be adventurous enough to invite Chuck D. to rap on his album, he will never completely drop the country and folk small-town elements from his music. Think of him as a Midwestern boy who also knows his way around the side streets of the big city.

Amazingly, Mellencamp still sounds like the voice of Everyman, even after all these years. Like his best music over the past few decades, this album has a natural and organic feel to it. The vocals are spirited and many times sound like first takes. The musicianship goes more for spontaneous impact than for flawless execution.

"In such a beautiful world/Why are so many people crying?" asks "Just Like You." It's an eternally difficult question, but Mellencamp has at least found a temporary answer to it In the appreciation of any rare beauty one stumbles upon in our otherwise ugly planet.

When someone "unbelievably beautiful" enters Mellencamp’s world, she also bring along a renewed sense of restored hope, which isn't a bad thing at all. Especially in our crazy old world.

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