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I became a John Mellencamp fan when I was about 15 after hearing a song of his on the radio. This was one of the first albums I bought after that and it's an album I have regularly played over the many years ever since. The album was released in 1987 but I would say that the music has a sort of timeless quality and befits the artist rather than the popular music trends of the era.
I have a physical copy of the CD and it's nice to have the booklet as it has complete lyrics in it. It also shows photos of Mellencamp. There is also some artistic photography featured which shows a juke box under a portrait of Jesus. Alongside this is a quote from the bible book Ecclesiastes which talks about how the toil of life is weary and how work is never ending and is never completely satisfying no matter how much we gain. It goes on to say that we should therefore try and by happy in our work as we will be dead and gone someday. The religious aspect to the album notes says a lot about the artist and his mindset.
Mellencamp's style is what I'd describe as a mix of rock, folk and country. His voice has a gravelly tone similar to that of Rod Stewart but with a bit more punch and masculinity whilst his American accent is always obvious. Quite often he seems to punch out lyrics like they are part of a protester's chant. There is both a sense of youthfulness and maturity in his vocal tone and he never fails to bring the lyrics to life through meaningful emphasis and phrasing.
There are ten tracks on the album and many of them have become Mellencamp classics. One of the best known is probably 'Cherry Bomb' which is a nostalgic look back on youth from a grown man. There is a sing-song playfulness in the song that is generated from the accordian melody. There is a story in the song which is realistic and personal and which resonates with me at a deep spiritual level. The chorus is catchy too and it's generally just a lovely song that makes me feel relaxed when I play it.
'Paper and Fire' which opens the album is a more fast paced number. The style of the song is quite sexy and slick and Mellencamp's female backing singers are smoldering. Mellencamp sounds like he is having fun singing this by going into the dark, intense moods that are indicated by the lyrics. Great song, really pumps me up energy wise.
'We are the People' is an anthemic kind of song and one that puts me in mind of another favourite artist of mine, Jackson Browne. The lyrics are rousing and poetic and contain references to the downtrodden and abused, the lowly and suffering who are subsequently promised support. I really love this track, it's my favourite on the album.
'Check It Out' is another one that Mellencamp fans tend to adore. It's typical Mellencamp - focusing on the ordinary man and what it means to be in his shoes. The lyrics need to be understood to fully enjoy the song in my opinion. Another great track that you can sing along to.
'Empty Hands' has a sharp edge to it which is exciting and dark. Quite often Mellencamp will personalise his songs by creating characters and in this song a woman called 'MaryAnne' is referenced. She is the lover of the character who sings. The story in the song is recognisable from any man's perspective since it discusses how millions of ordinary westernised men exist living quite dreary lives which mean nothing unless hope and love exist too.
'Hard Times For an Honest Man' has a similar theme and features a chorus which sees the singer (along with his feisty backing singers) proclaim about the state of affairs for the regular Joes of the world. Another great track, both lyrically and muscially.
'Hotdogs and Hamburgers' is another excellent track. The verses feel like they are half-spoken as there is so much expression in the words. The story of the song is vivid and compelling. It feels the story of this song was a genuine experience for the song writer.
'Down and Out in Paradise' has a fairly blunt message about the way men are struggling with unemployment and poverty. Musically the song is spiky and the message is whipped out with violence and anger. Overall the song feels like it's just a bit too political to be fully enjoyed as just something you would want to put on to enjoy listening to music. In the grand scheme of Mellencamp's album though it works very well.
'The Real Life' is another top track. You can find a personal favourite in any of the tracks on this album, to be honest. The songs have stories which jump out at you and make a lasting impression. This song is one particular song that does that as there is real emotion and meaning in the story of 'Suzanne' and 'Jackson'.
'Rooty Toot Toot' is a fairly upbeat end to the album and the song is playful whilst the lyrics are lighthearted. A good song with a catchy chorus.
As I mentioned I am constantly playing this album all the time, in my car, whilst I'm exercising or busy on the computer. It's one of my favourite Mellencamp albums and if you want to discover this brilliant artist this is a great place to begin.
"The Lonesome Jubilee" is the 9th studio album by American rock artist, John Mellencamp. It was released in 1987 on Mercury records and produced by Mellencamp with Don Gehman.
In Mellencamp's signature style, this album contains songs celebrating common people who work hard, play hard and make the world go around, no matter where they are in the world. There are also songs championing the farmers and people who live in the Heartland of America, who work hard every day despite the struggles of politics making their lives harder by nearly putting their family owned farms out of business. Despite all this, the songs can speak to anyone, anywhere about what they may be going through at the time, even if they have never been near a farm. The addition of fiddle, mandolin and accordion add an interesting twist to rock songs. The album has stronger backing vocals than most of his previous efforts.
Featuring an intro of accordion and dobro (resonator) guitar, "Paper in Fire" is a strong song, a good rocker. The title is a metaphor for watching your dreams going up in smoke before your very eyes, and the lyrics reflect this sentiment throughout the track.
With an interesting use of accordion, "Check it Out" features solid lyrics that speak of everyday life. It also acknowledges poets wanting their voices to be heard by people who are too busy to recognize what they are saying. It is a musical reminder to stop being too busy with life to really live.
"Cherry Bomb" is pure nostalgia for the good old days and simpler times of youth. It is also a chance to laugh at some of the things you did and thought in the late teen years. The song is a great duet with impressive fiddle work and a building melody. While it seems odd to think of a fiddle in a rock song, it actually works and adds a fun dimension to the song.
In what could be considered an anthem for the working class, "We Are the People" addresses homelessness, racism and other real life problems that need to be addressed and fixed by those who are in charge.
Quite possibly his most passionate album yet, Mellencamp pours his heart and soul into this effort while adding enough fun to keep it from feeling repressive or emotionally heavy. Each song is a joy to listen to, for all the interesting touches he adds both musically and lyrically. The lyrics are relevant to any generation both socially and politically, without a dated feel to them. I easily recommend this album to anyone who enjoys rock music.
1. Paper in Fire
2. Down and Out in Paradise
3. Check it Out
4. The Real Life
5. Cherry Bomb
6. We Are the People
7. Empty Hands
8. Hard Times For an Honest Man
9. Hotdogs and Hamburgers
10. Rooty Toot Toot
My rating: 9/10
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Paper In Fire
2 Down & Out In Paradise
3 Check It Out
4 The Real Life
5 Cherry Bomb
6 We Are The People
7 Empty Hands
8 Hard Times For An Honest Man
9 Hot Dogs & Hamburgers
10 Rooty Toot Toot