October 25, 1993 12:00 PM

John Mellencamp

As he has progressed from small-town rocker to pop star, Mellencamp has never lost his compassion for his fellow citizens from the heartland. Yet in the albums since 1985’s Scarecrow., the Seymour, Ind., native has found the world they inhabit to be a cruel and dark place.

Mellencamp is not feeling any cheerier on this emotionally wrenching new release, a collection of songs infused with a sense of loss, regret and anger. The disc lakes off with “When Jesus Left Birmingham,” a sparse, funky ode about the role of faith in hard economic times. In “Beige to Beige,” Mellancamp sings about the numbness of conformity and subsequent feelings of emptiness. In the moving “Case 795 (the Family)” the theme is domestic violence.

The album’s generally depressing mood gets a lift from punchy back-beats and soulful vocals. While there is no bona fide single here, Mellencamp’s older disciples may appreciate that the rocker is no longer churning out empty pop ditties. For Mellencamp, the paint on the little pink houses of his 1983 hit has faded along with the dreams of the folks who live inside. (Mercury)

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