June 19, 1989 12:00 PM

John Cougar Mellencamp

Maybe Mellencamp should study some football so he could institute a platoon system for his albums. He could write the music and the arrangements for his songs and then find someone who writes and sings in English to be his lyric platoon.

As it is, this album is full of urgent rock rhythms and insinuating rock-blues melodies, from the Rolling Stone-like “Martha Say” to the dark “Void in My Heart.” Mellencamp’s band is classy; backup singers Crystal Taliefero and Nancy Arnold could well be in front of a group.

Mellencamp’s own singing, however, turns potentially affecting rock into something that is by turns puzzling and infuriating. He seems determined, for one thing, to be as mush-mouthed as possible, as if he were trying to imitate Bob Dylan singing with a mouthful of mashed bananas. Anyone out there have any idea of what “Theo and Weird Henry” is about, for instance? Mellencamp is an all-time example of why every album should include a lyric sheet, which this one doesn’t.

When he is decipherable, Mellencamp is often maddening. “Pop Singer” is a monument to hypocrisy in which Mellencamp whines about the burdens of popularity and wealth, with no apparent sense of irony—or shame. (Planning to donate all our royalties and appearance fees to charity from now on, are we, John? And doesn’t the fact that this record’s copyright notice includes a legal threat against anyone even lending it suggest close attention to bottom lines?) “J.M.’s Question” is a fatiguing list of all the things wrong in the world according to Mellencamp: “There’s a hole in the ozone/ and the rats all got cancer”; “Do it to your buddy ‘fore he does it to you.”

He does not list among these odious phenomena singers who insist on feeling oppressed, depressed and overstressed, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. (Mercury)

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