The heartland rocker and Americana star puts out an album that’s as gruffly beautiful as it is darkly socially critical.
Published on 31. January 2022 by Thomas Waldherr in Reviews //
John Mellencamp – Strictly A One Eyed Jack. Image rights: Republic Records
John Mellencamp has for many years been an advocate of the other America. Of America beyond Big Money, Racism and Republicans. No wonder that he suffers so much in these times of fake news, Trump campaigns and the storm on the Capitol, which just ended so smoothly. And this suffering wants out. So he’s making a new album, the content of which focuses on dishonesty and lies in society as its main theme. But also topics like transience can be found on the new longplayer. With the release of his 25. Studio album Strictly A One-Eyed Jack he underlines his jam as a rock’n’roll legend and productive forward-thinking Americana artist in equal measure, offering his fans 13 new songs. It features longtime band members Andy York, Dane Clark and Troye Kinnet, John Mellencamp produced it himself, and it was recorded and mixed by Grammy Award winner David Leonard. Musically, this is familiar Mellencamp-Americana territory: lots of violin, often piano and straightforward folk-rock, albeit a bit slower and more restrained this time.
Lies and transience
The cover shows a portrait of Mellencamp with an eye patch, painted by his son. In the Anglo-Saxon world, the "One Eyed Jack" is understood to mean two things. On the one hand, someone who reveals only the good part of his nature, but hides his difficult or abysmal sides. On the other hand, the term stands there in the card game for the Jack of Spades and the Jack of Hearts, of which one sees only one eye in each case. And especially in the card game you know the stories of "bluffing" from the "ace in the hole", that is, in deceiving, misleading, lying. In this way the title is to be understood programmatically and Mellencamp does not take out there at all. No one is immune to deceive and trick once in a while.
So the first song "I Always Lie To Stranger" is to be understood as a confession according to the motto "If I stick my head out, then I’m not honest". "I always lie to strangers and what you may see in me is all in my imagination". Pretending to protect oneself and being polite to others. The singer in this bitter tender song not happy with his peculiarity, but is convinced that this world is ruled by men even more dishonest than him. Sentimental-thoughtful it becomes then with "Driving In The Rain". Everything used to feel a lot easier when you were driving in the rain. Now everything is hard and what you do has consequences that need to be worked through. Fine song.
A central role on the album plays the three duets with Bruce Springsteen. "Did You Say Such A Thing" is a relaxed laid back rocker. Here it is about the slander, the degradation of the other one. A phenomenon that, unfortunately, has become almost mainstream in our society now in private or political arguments. "Wasted Days" is a nice catchy tune and oscillates between serene and resigned. Wasted days, time is robbed by lies and trivialities. Because how long do I still have time. John (age 70) and Bruce (72) struggle a bit with getting older. You should ask your mutual friend Bob Dylan (80). He doesn’t care and he goes on and on.
"Simply One Eyed Jack" is of course the key song of the album. One Eyed Jack" is the great liar, the great seducer. Of course Donald Trump is also the godfather for this one. The last verse is particularly revealing. "I want to go somewhere safe, watch the world change, and become a folk singer who sings a song that ends corruption and pain. But there is no need for that now, because we are on a long way. We must move or we will be victims of this lying "One Eyed Jack". Very clear announcement to become politically active now to prevent the disaster.
Despite everything the hope remains
But the most beautiful song of the album and the absolute earworm is "Chasing The Rainbow". It tells that happiness is not in the gold that supposedly lures at the end of the rainbow, but can be found everywhere. Mellencamp knows how to give comfort and hope despite all the heavy thoughts that can be found on this album.
The third joint song with Bruce Springsteen then also forms the conclusion of the album. A slow piano ballad about life experience, about all the defeats and the long gone youth. A thoughtful song and fitting conclusion to an album that is certainly full of dark tones and thoughts, but still does not want to resign itself to the impending doom.
Conclusion: A strong album of the old master. Dark thoughts and hope for change in difficult times full of lies and selfishness. Almost old-fashioned this John Mellencamp!
John Mellencamp – Strictly A One-Eyed Jack: The 2022 Album
TitleStrictly A One-Eyed Jack
Artist: John Mellencamp
Release date: 21. January 2022
Label & Distribution: Republic Records (Universal Music)
Formats: CD& Digital
Genre: Rock, Americana
Tracklist: (Strictly A One-Eyed Jack)
01. I Always Lie To Strangers
02. Driving In The Rain
03. I Am A Man That Worries
04. Streets Of Galilee
05. Sweet Honey Brown
06. Did You Say Such A Thing – with Bruce Springsteen
07. Gone So Soon
08. Wasted Days – with Bruce Springsteen
09. Simply A One-Eyed Jack
10. Chasing Rainbows
11. Lie To Me
12. A Life Full Of Rain – with Bruce Springsteen