Review by Steve Guttenberg
CD Stock Number: Columbia Records CK/CM 85098
Nowadays it seems like every time I check out a new CD from one of my favorite artists, I cringe. Take Mick Jagger's new one, Goddess in the Doorway, it's just plain awful. I will grant it might contain a decent tune or two, but its so-slick-it-hurts over processed sound hurts my ears. Leonard Cohen's first studio album in eight or nine years, Ten New Songs, did not grate on me -- I just wish it had a human touch -- the instrumentation is mostly programmed synth Muzak. Maybe that's why I am so grateful for this new disc from John Mellencamp. Cuttin Heads has strong tunes and a kick-ass band.
Listen, I have never been a fan of John Mellencamp -- his music has just been too heartland rock and rolly for me. Now I'm reconsidering this guy -- his music has a post 9/11 urgency to it (but it was mostly recorded last year). The title track, with Public Enemy's Chuck D doin' his thing, tries too hard; the mood picks up on track 2, "Peaceful World." Its got one hell of a hook and intelligent lyrics. His paean to America, "Crazy Island" rolls out on an extra sturdy groove. Hell, the whole record has just the right momentum; everything feels so well placed, and yet spontaneous. Mellencamp sounds like he's fronting a band, you know -- guitars, bass, keyboards, drums -- live in the studio, but I'm sure he overdubbed his vocals. The point is, he pulled off the illusion, and that's all that matters. He's singing about racism, the man/woman thing, and not being just good consumers. Mellencamp is having a great time and means every word. Speaking of singers, our hero's sexy & soulful back-up vocalists add a definite "Gimme Shelter" style drama to the proceedings. Drummers Steve Jordan and Dane Clark provide a propulsive kick to the tunes.
On "Shy," the band changes gears and tosses off a staccato reggae bed; "Worn Out Nervous Condition" and "The Same Way I Do" sound like they might have been lifted from Keith Richards first, and best solo record, Talk is Cheap. Cuttin' Heads' sonics are nothing special. Actually they're pretty bad, as in overly compressed, with no heal highs or lows. Oh well, it will hopefully sound great in your car.
Sound Quality: 75