Cuttin' Heads (2001)

1. Cuttin' Heads 2. Peaceful World 3. Deep Blue Heart 4. Crazy Island 5. Just Like You 6. The Same Way I Do 7. Women Seem 8. Worn Out Nervous Condition 9. Shy 10.In Our Lives


John Mellencamp remained a critic's favorite even though he was starting to be a "thing of the past" in terms of popularity and radio airplay. It was therefore no surprise when he tried to shake things up a bit on his new release - especially when its predecessor John Mellencamp was his most lackluster release, saleswise, yet. This is one of those CDs that is "all over the place". He doesn't really stick to one style or one theme, yet dips his paint brush in all sorts of buckets. Had the music been a bit more memorable, this wouldn't have been an issue at all. Yet the fluctuations in styles and arrangements just end up muddling up the mix of mostly so-so songs.

The album starts off with a couple of tracks where he's trying to hard to be hip, and trying to hard to sing about racial equality - or at least about easing tensions among the races. The first two songs, Cuttin' Heads and Peaceful World are filled with African-American background singers and guest appearances by Chuck D. doing a rap and India.Arie dueting on the latter track. Perhaps the songs are good, they just don't appeal to me too much, so I tend to slag them off. Mellencamp had already proved on Mr.Happy Go Lucky that he could spice things up with adding contemporary sounds, so you can't really blame him for trying. It should be noted that Peaceful World was the only hit single (albeit a minor one) of the album.

He then quickly shifts gears by the third track, Deep Blue Heart that is mostly influenced by country-western music. By this time, we have another guest artist in Trisha Yearwood, so without even listening to the album, you can sort of see how the album jumps all over the place. Then there are songs like Women Seem that do come across as being catchy, so the songs aren't in themselves bad, they just have an element of kitch to them the doesn't really fit Mellencamp's persona all that much. The song Women Seem almost sounds like he's trying to be a bit funny - which, let's be honest, isn't really his strength.

What seemed to be a recent trend (at least for my tastes) is that some of the best songs on the record seemed to go mostly unknown. My favorite, which is also the most "Mellencamp like thing" on here, is Crazy Island which is an ode to the sometimes great, sometimes not-so-great country of America. This song reminds me of some of his older songs, that I honestly was beginning to miss around the turn of the century. The closer on the record, In Our Lives is also a very honest, heartfelt piece that seems to have gotten a little lost.

I'll give him credit for trying. It just seems like the well was running a bit dry for him as of late.

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