Friday, December 4, 2015

Rocking Out On His Own, John Mellencamp's Uh-Huh Endures!

The Good: Good lyrics, Catchy tunes, Decent vocals, Engaging instrumental accompaniment
The Bad: SHORT, Frontloaded, Repetitive on some songs
The Basics: Aging well, Uh-Huh remains a damn good, albeit short, album.

Every now and then, publications and website generate lists of their opinions of the best works for various criteria. The longer I explore the works of John Mellencamp, the more I understand why so many of his albums make it into essential album lists from the 1980s. Despite the albums being short - which was very much a sign of the times, given that vinyl and cassette were still the standard and they had limited durations - Mellencamp's albums from the 1980s are usually packed with decent songs beyond the two or three singles that made it onto the radio. That is certainly how it is with his album Uh-Huh.

Uh-Huh was the first album Mellencamp produced under the name John Cougar Mellencamp. It was the first album Mellencamp created after leaving the record label that had made him an icon with American Fool. Uh-Huh also represents a new high water mark for Mellencamp with the amount of creative control he had over his own works and, as such, it is one of the most distinctly Mellencamp albums of his early career.

With only nine songs (10 tracks - an acoustic version of "Pink Houses" - on the 2005 c.d. reissue) clocking out at 32:59, Uh-Huh is very short. What is on the album, though, is distinctly the work of John Mellencamp. Mellencamp wrote four of the songs and co-wrote the other five. Mellencamp provides all of the primary vocals on Uh-Huh and while he is not credited with playing any instruments on it, he was co-producer on Uh-Huh.

Uh-Huh sounds very much like a garage band generating pop-rock songs. The guitar and drums dominate the music and the album alternates well between quieter, more contemplative, pop tracks like "Pink Houses" and "Jackie O" and more banging, guitar-driven tracks that compete with pounding drums like "Play Guitar" and "The Authority Song."

Vocally, John Mellencamp growls his way through Uh-Huh. At this point in Mellencamp's career, he had found his range and he sticks in it in Uh-Huh. Perhaps his most impressive musical moments are how fast he can sing, as he does on "Serious Business." Otherwise, he sings clearly enough to get his message across.

On Uh-Huh John Mellencamp sings about revolution and the real state of America in the early '80s. Songs like "Crumbling Down" became anthemic for young people and it is hard not to see why songs like "The Authority Song" resonated long after the 80s. Sure, it might be repetitive when Mellencamp repeats the mantra "When I fight authority, Authority always wins" ("The Authority Song"), but he makes it work and rock.

As one might expect, Uh-Huh contains some musical storysongs. His musical storysongs tend to blend social commentary and the sense of personal experiences. While "Pink Houses" cracked at the facade of Americana, anyone who has had a dream and had to sell out for American Capitalism is likely to be able to relate to "Warmer Place To Sleep." With lines like "I had breakfast with the wise man /He told me what he thought I should know / And I've been to bed with Jezebel / And I found the well was deep /And I'd trade in my ambitions / For a warmer place to sleep" ("Warmer Place To Sleep"), Mellencamp sings well about how dreams die in America.

Uh-Huh also features Mellencamp reacting to his own celebrity. When he sings "This is serious business / Sex and violence and rock and roll / You know my head is sweating / I can't dance and I can't relax / Outside is too threatening now / I've come this far and I can't go back / Call up some old friends / Call up some strangers" ("Serious Business") it is hard not to believe that he is singing about some of his new experiences as a rock star.

Uh-Huh is more than just the three iconic '80s songs that people might associate with the album. Despite uncharactistic rhyme schemes on "Jackie O," there are no truly bad songs on the album and it illustrates well the potential Mellencamp had for continuing to produce well beyond one hit record. The best song is "Pink Houses," the weak track is "Lovin' Mother Fo Ya."

For other works by John Mellencamp, please check out my reviews of:
Chestnut Street Incident
A Biograpghy
Nothin' Matters And What If It Did
American Fool
Words And Music: John Mellencamp's Greatest Hits


For a full list of the albums and singles I have reviewed, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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