No Better Than This / John Mellencamp (music & lyric review)

If you are not a fan of John Mellencamp or Americana Folk Music… move along, this probably is of no interest to you.

No Better Than This (2010) follows John Mellencamp’s darkest album “Life, Death, Love & Freedom (2008) and continues his partnership with T-Bone Burnett. The music is rich and gritty like well worn leather. John is as musically refined as can be, with all of his youthful pretensions a distant memory.

According to the liner notes, T Bone Burnett captured these raw thirteen new tunes at three historically important locations:

Sun Studio in Memphis, TN (where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis all first recorded)
First African Baptist Church in Savannah, GA (the oldest Black church in North America, dating to 1775)
Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, TX (where Robert Johnson made his first recordings in 1936, and legend has it, he sold his soul to the devil).

All they took with them was a small band, one microphone, and a 1955 Ampex recorder. John stood five feet away from the microphone on some, sang into a corner on others, and he and his wife were “baptized under the altar” at the church.
According to Burnett, little to no mixing was necessary.

Not sure what to make of all that, but the results are musically stunning. Rich and raw.

What is of greater interest to me, is where John is at mentally & spiritually. The lyrical themes are mostly dark & contemplative, sometimes regretful. He is seriously considering the sunset of his life. That is, if his lyrics are a window into the man’s soul. I believe they are.

Below is a sampling from some of the lyrics that I find interesting. Themes of heaven, hell, the devil & Jesus.

Save Some Time To Dream:

Could it be that this is all there is?
Could it be there’s nothing more at all?
Save some time to dream
‘Cause your dream could save us all

Right Behind Me:

I know Jesus
And I know the devil
They’re both inside of me
All the time
This ain’t no picnic
That I’m livin’
Just a resting place
Before it’s time to go
You see the devil
He thinks he’s got me
But he ain’t got me
No

A Graceful Fall:

‘Cause I’m sick of life
And it’s easy to do
When everything so hard
Has been handed to you
‘Cause I’m sick of life
And it’s lost its fun
I’ll see you in the next world
If there is really one

No Better Than This:

Give me back my youth
And don’t let me waste it this time
Stand me up at the golden gates
At the front of the line

Coming Down The Road:

Well I heard the truth call my name
As I was coming down the road
Coming down the road
And I followed that voice to the valley below
As I was coming down the road
And it took me down a path where I was lost all the time
I found some truth but it could never be mine
As I was coming down the road
Coming down the road

No One Cares About Me:

Well it’s hard to say what kind of fella I am
But most the time nothing goes my way
I must have done something pretty wrong
But I still think it will work out okay
There surely must be some angels around the bend
And they’re trying to get to me
I’ll catch up with them pretty soon
But for now no one cares about me

Don’t Forget About Me:

I know the thrill of love is waning
You can’t see the pictures I’m painting
Of me and you together
From life to death to heaven

Each day Of Sorrow:

Well I ain’t been baptized
I ain’t got no church
No friend in Jesus
And what makes matters worse
I’ve lost myself
Into the dark
Scared and alone
With no love in my heart

Each day of sorrow
Brings me closer to goodbye
If I weren’t so afraid
I’d lay down and die

Easter Eve:

Well he asked me some questions of things that I’d done
But I kept it good natured, we were just having fun
And we talked about everything under the sun
And the Easter bells were chiming

In my opinion, this is John Mellencamp’s best work ever, and a rich addition to my singer/songwriter collection.

Check it out here.

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