Times Of Trouble

Searching for a ray of lyrical light in John Mellencamp's latest treatise on the state of the world proves consuming -- but largely fruitless.

Searching for a ray of lyrical light in John Mellencamp's latest treatise on the state of the world proves consuming -- but largely fruitless. That, however, makes "Life Death Love and Freedom" (Hear Music) all the more compelling.

Its unrelentingly bleak landscape, populated by plain-spoken narrators and richly detailed characters and settings, leans more on the death part of the title equation, with pointed side trips into the political climate ("Young Without Lovers," "Troubled Land," "Without a Shot" and the particularly specific "Jena") and philosophical essays like "John Cockers" and "For the Children," in which Mellencamp seems to question his own capacity for the continuing struggle.

"He's a great storyteller and a great artist," says T-Bone Burnett, who produced the album. "I didn't offer much direction, really, but he was certainly open. He encouraged me to play guitar a lot on the record, which I enjoyed."

The album will be released in a new high-definition audio format dubbed CODE. CODE technology, developed by Burnett and a team of engineers, creates high-definition audio files that are virtually indistinguishable from the original masters. To address possible compatibility issues, "Life" will be packaged as a two-disc set, with the standard edition of the album on CD and the CODE version of the album on DVD. The set will be priced as if it were a single-disc package.