Friday, November 10, 2023

Archive Review: John Mellencamp's The Lonesome Jubilee (1987/2005)

John Mellencamp’s The Lonesome Jubilee
John Cougar Mellencamp’s breakthrough album, 1983’s Uh-Huh, provided the artist with the commercial success he craved while 1985’s Scarecrow brought him the critical respect that he’d earned. Two years later, The Lonesome Jubilee brought Mellencamp something else entirely – freedom. With this 1987 album release, Mellencamp not only claimed his place alongside Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bob Seger as a respected working class wordsmith, he also won the creative freedom to explore his muse unlike anything he had previously recorded.

John Mellencamp’s The Lonesome Jubilee

Extending the lyrical themes he began outlining in detail on the American Fool album a half-decade earlier, songs like “Paper In Fire,” “Cherry Bomb,” and “The Real Life” continue Mellencamp’s fascination with life in the heartland and the everyday trials and tribulations of the average man, woman and child. These hit singles only tell part of the story, however, with Mellencamp pursuing a darker vision of the American Dream™ on the album’s less well-known songs. Lyrical broadsides like “Down and Out In Paradise,” with its bleak American landscape, the anthemic “We Are the People” and “Hard Times For An Honest Man” suggest that nearly two terms of Conservative Reagan administration policy had seriously eroded the country’s working class prospects by ‘87.

The songs still rock hard on The Lonesome Jubilee in spite of Mellencamp’s ongoing evolution in sound. Incorporating instrumentation like fiddle, accordion, and acoustic guitars, Mellencamp adds an Appalachian flourish to his material, extending his artistic milieu to include elements of folk and country alongside his native roots-rock. It would prove to be an excellent move, creating a distinctive and timeless flavor to his material that would serve as Mellencamp’s trademark well into the next decade. A bonus cut added to this 2005 CD reissue of The Lonesome Jubilee – the previously unreleased “Blues From the Front Porch” – is a real gem. A Delta-dirty duet with singer Crystal Taliefero, it is a fitting addition to the album.  

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The Lonesome Jubilee has withstood the test of time, the songs sounding as fresh, original and, sadly, lyrically relevant as they were nearly two decades ago. Not amazingly, John Mellencamp’s musical legacy seems to grow with each passing year, the artist that once struggled for critical acclaim now overshadowing his colleagues in defining the voice of a decade. The Lonesome Jubilee stands tall as both one of Mellencamp’s best works and as a truly classic masterpiece of rock ‘n’ roll. (Island Def Jam/Universal, 2005)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2005

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