The desire to be a cultural unifier is one of the admirable things about John Mellencamp’s latest CD, a set of classic-rock Americana clearly shaped by the red-state/blue-state landscape. ”There’s room enough here/For science to live/And there’s room enough here/For religion to forgive,” he sings on ”Our Country,” the annoying but catchy soundtrack to the current ad campaign for Chevrolet’s Silverado pickup. It’s a righteous notion. But while righteous notions may sell trucks, they don’t always make for compelling rock & roll.
The sound of Freedom’s Road promisingly looks to the ’60s, with bright electric guitars conjuring the Byrds and the Stones, often mixing folkie strum, country fiddle, and R&B/gospel organ in a musical vision of racial idealism. There’s even a duet with ’60s peacenik Joan Baez on ”Jim Crow,” a song about…well, beyond invoking the image of racial segregation, it’s not clear what it’s about. Elsewhere, well-meaning but graceless verses (”I’m an American/I respect you and your point of view,” he assures in ”The Americans”) ring hollow even as character studies. Like a political speech, Mellencamp’s stadium rock plays to the cheap seats but rarely offers specific critiques or risks giving offense. That this is less than inspiring says as much about modern politics as it does mass-market pop. C+