The man once known as Johnny Cougar has spent his career trying to get serious while fending off negative comparisons with Bruce Springsteen.
At the age of 58, John Mellencamp -- as he prefers to be known -- has at last succeeded in surpassing the Boss with his new album, “No Better Than This.” The CD, produced by T-Bone Burnett, features tunes like the folkie opener, “Save Some Time to Dream,” that could have been written decades ago: Mellencamp makes a virtue of this.
He recorded in vintage locations: Sun Studios, Memphis (with a vintage single microphone and the floor plan used by Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash); in the hotel room where Robert Johnson cut some tracks in 1936; and in a Baptist church.
The material is so good that Mellencamp rises above gimmickry. Numbers such as “Right Behind Me” recall his peaks like “Hurts So Good” and “Jack and Diane.” Springsteen’s blue-collar rock faces stiff rivalry at last. Rating: ***.
Klaxons, “Surfing the Void”
Many of us at the U.K.’s Mercury Prize ceremony in 2007 were staggered when the award failed to go to Amy Winehouse, the Arctic Monkeys or Jamie T. Nobody was more surprised than the winners, Klaxons. The London band capered around the room like madmen -- even singer Jamie Reynolds who had a broken leg -- looking ecstatic and oblivious to concerns that the Mercury is often seen as an albatross rather than a blessing.
The curse of Mercury duly struck as the rave-pop act struggled over its difficult second album, with music label Polydor rejecting recordings by producer Tony Visconti.
The much-delayed collection is out today. Was it worth the wait? The answer is occasionally yes, on crazy tracks such as “Venusia” with spacey lyrics and woozy guitar. The overall assessment, though, is no. The band, which turns in a few songs that surely didn’t need three years to create, sounds like it has lost the plot. Rating: **.
Eels, “Tomorrow Morning”
U.S. singer-songwriter Mark Everett, better known as E, has a productivity rate to rival James Brown in his heyday. He has just released the last of a trio of albums under the Eels group name put together in little more than a year.
It’s true that the workaholic surge follows a four-year absence. Still, like Prince, Everett could use an editor. A single CD cherry-picking the best of all three would be more compelling, distilling the themes of relationships and aging. This latest is the most positive of the set, with the single “Looking Up” an optimistic highlight.
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)