John Prine: Common Sense

Common Sense is a confused, self-indulgent fourth album by a major songwriter gone downhill. Recorded in Memphis and Los Angeles with producer Steve Cropper, nine of John Prine's ten new songs have "rock" settings that feature electric guitars, horns and background vocals. Against an aggressive, choppy sound, Prine's material fails in its attempt to imitate the spontaneous style of Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home. Intended to be humorously absurd, Prine's lyrics string together cryptic aphorisms with a sarcasm that is downright sophomoric. In "Saddle in the Rain" Prine imagines: "They locked God up/Down in my basement/And he waited there for me/To have this accident/So he could drink my wine/And eat me like a sacrament." And the title cut, which ridicules the bicentennial, merely observes: "It don't make much sense/That common sense/Don't make no sense/No more." The only songs that do make sense are "Way Down," a mediocre country whiner; "He Was in Heaven before He Died," a eulogy that recalls earlier Prine work; and an acceptable version of Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell," a song that stands head and shoulders above anything else on Common Sense.


John Prine established his reputation with a debut album that contained five great songs of Middle American life — "Hello in There," "Sam Stone," "Paradise," "Angel from Montgomery" and "Donald and Lydia." Two albums followed, each containing some strong material — none of it, however, quite as arresting as what had come earlier. The last, Sweet Revenge, seemed to promise that Prine's gift for lyric writing could successfully be directed toward rock. With Common Sense, that gift, the foundation of Prine's artistry, has dissipated into pointless frivolity.