John Mellencamp - Other People's Stuff - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

John Mellencamp - Other People's Stuff

by James Weiskittel Rating:5 Release Date:2018-12-07

The little-known secret regarding John Mellencamp is that the ‘heartland’ rocker has spent the last decade quietly releasing some of the most artistically potent albums of his career. And while few will argue with the lasting resonance of his seminal work from the mid-80’s (Scarecrow & The Lonesome Jubilee are the perfect places to start), the T Bone Burnett-produced No Better Than This (2010) and Life, Death, Love, and Freedom (2008) feature some of Mellencamp’s most raw and arresting performances to date.

Unfortunately, Mellencamp’s latest album, the ‘covers’ compilation Other People’s Stuff, feels more like an obligatory ‘about-to-go-on-tour’ release than anything else. While the concept of assembling a collection of songs drawing upon the great American songbook is novel enough, the unfortunate truth is that the vast majority of Other People’s Stuff is comprised of re-recorded and/or re-mixed previously released tracks.

That’s not to say that the material here isn’t top-notch, because it absolutely is. The album-opening “To The River” sounds just as good as it did on the back-half of Human Wheels while Mellencamp’s rousing takes on the go-to standards “In My Time Of Dying (1997’s Rough Harvest), and “Mobile Blue” (from last year’s Sad Clowns & Hillbillies) also sound just as good as they did on their original releases.

As for the ‘odds-&-sods’ component of Other People’s Stuff: “Dark as a Dungeon” (from last year’s From the Ashes documentary), 2004’s “Wreck of the Old 97”, and the lone new recording, “Eyes on the Prize” (originally performed live at the White House in 2010 in front of President Barack Obama) are all excellent in their own right, but beg the question: why not add an additional handful of newly recorded songs to round out this otherwise lean (10 tracks totaling 34 minutes) release?

After all, longtime/diehard fans will certainly already possess most of this content. And given the potency of Mellencamp’s post-millennium output, you would think that he’d want to put his road-worn voice fully on display for all to see, rather than giving them a disparate, repackaged glimpse of (mostly) years gone by.

That being said, since I’m clearly a fan, I’ll allow Mr. Mellencamp to have the final word here: “Most, if not all, of the songs on Other People’s Stuff come from The Great American Songbook. These are songs that have been recorded over the last 40 years of my career, but had never been put together as one piece of work. Now, they have."

Well there you have it. While intended to serve as an homage to Mellencamp’s musical past, Other People’s Stuff is (at least in this writer’s opinion) little more than a missed opportunity. 

A 9 (out of 10) for the material included plus a 1 (out of 10) for the what-should’ve-been factor leaves this release with a generous 5. See you on tour John.

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