Picks and Pans Review: John Mellencamp

updated 11/09/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/09/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

John Mellencamp (Columbia)

Album of the week

Two years ago fans got the feeling that their favorite heartland rocker might have lost his way when Mellencamp, 47, released an album of urban dance music produced by club-deejay Junior Vasquez and rife with prerecorded drum tracks. But if he was suffering a midlife crisis, it's over now. On this, his 15th album—and first for Columbia, after leaving his longtime label Mercury—Mellencamp returns to basics. While hip-hopster Moe Z. MD contributes vocals and dance beats to a funky track titled "Break Me Off Some," the Indiana native stays close to the chunky, gospel-inflected rock that enlivened his 1987 hit "Paper in Fire." And with Miriam Sturm's gypsy fiddle giving tracks an epic feel, and roots-rock guests (including former Guns N' Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin) assisting his regular backing band, Mellencamp seems reenergized. He's even relaxed enough to resurrect a pair of characters he buried with his old John Cougar persona: The protagonists of his 1982 hit "Jack & Diane" make a cameo in "Eden is Burning."

Bottom Line: Meat-and-potatoes rock, with just a pinch of '90s garnish, gets Mellencamp back on track

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