Picks and Pans Review: The Lonesome Jubilee

updated 09/21/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/21/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

John Cougar Mellencamp

For those who speak only Bulgarian or Tagalog, this may well be the rock album of the year. The music is charged up, rollicking. Drummer Kenny Aronoff keeps things thumping right along, Lisa Germano makes some vigorous contributions on violin, and backup singers Pat Peterson and Crystal Taliefero make themselves heard to vibrant effect. Mellencamp himself, gone all bluesy and growly, sounds the way a rock prophet should. For those who understand the lyrics, however, the album gets tiresome fast. Of its 10 tunes, only one is not devoted to such topics as unemployment, racism, sexism, nuclear war or mistreatment of Native Americans, and that one is a mournful ode to lost youth. Typical are the lines, "And I felt ashamed of my actions/ and the way the West was really won." The worst part of this is that Mellencamp, like his fellow blue-collar rocker Bruce Springsteen, is so unrelievedly without wit. If there is ever a national ranking of senses of humor, the two of them will be right in there with the artichokes and stop signs. In this case Mellencamp's heavy-handedness makes him sound like a grump. Nobody wants him to go around singing just God Bless America or even Back Home Again in Indiana, but Mellencamp's own success makes the ceaseless despair of his lyrics seem foolish. If he is so lacking in perspective, why trust his judgment? There is no reason to take seriously someone who, in the middle of a song called Rooty Toot Toot, feels compelled to stuff in the lines, "There's a lot of people out there/ who are at the end of their rope." (Polygram)

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