John Cougar Mellencamp - The Kid Inside
1977's The Kid Inside is such a pale imitation of Springsteen it’s almost embarrassing. Both Mellencamp and Springteen suffered from verbosity early in their careers – perhaps a common occurrence with young performers who have so much to say and want to get it all out in case they don’t get another chance. But whereas Springsteens’s early songs from Greetings From Asbury Park New Jersey and The Wild , The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle had the swagger, the poetry and the musical muscle to back them up, Mellencamp, (or Cougar as he was known then) wrote songs that were left flapping in the wind like kites stuck in a tree. It’s strange listening to these early albums knowing where the man is now. If I had been reviewing them now “as is” without the benefit of foresight I probably would have written him off. “Nice try kid, try The X Factor.”
As with Chestnut Street The Kid Inside begins auspiciously enough with a moment verité; Cougar joshing with the mixer “Roll demo! If we don’t get it right this time, tough shit!” then rolling into the title track which sounds like it could have come off American Fool: compact, cool and catchy. Unfortunately it goes straight downhill from there.
‘Take What You Want’ is OK but a little dull. ‘Cheap Shot’ begins with a fake cheering crowd opener (I doubt very much it was taken from one of his early shows) and is equally as empty, sounding like the kind of song Bruce could write in his sleep and then discard once he woke up. The opening piano chords of ‘Sidewalks and Streetlights’ is a complete rip off of ‘Jungleland’ but nowhere near as good. It tries hard to be a tough mature rock opus but Cougar’s lacklustre vocals and mish- mash of musical styles and tempos makes it sound overblown and silly.
‘American Son’, ‘Gearhead’, and ‘Young Genocides’ are “working-class-anthems-by-numbers” that even Eddie and the Cruisers could have done a better job with. The bonus tracks are equally as uninteresting, the “highlight” being ‘Last of the Big Time Spenders’ with Cougar trying to sound like Huggy Bear; "Yeah, we all agree / you are really somethin' to see / voted most likely to succeed..."
After the completion of The Kid Inside, manager Tony DeFries decided against releasing it and Cougar was subsequently dropped from MCA. It was probably the best thing that could have happened. Cougar then began working with Rod Stewart’s manager Billy Gaff, and after a few false starts found not only mainstream success with songs such as ‘Hurt So Good’ and ‘Jack and Diane’ but critical acclaim as well, shaking off the label of “the poor man’s Springsteen” and releasing a string of certifiable classics, selling over 40 million records and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not bad for a small town kid from Indiana. But ain’t that the American dream?