When John Mellencamp’s heart exploded from too much smoke, drink, and type-A tension, he more than earned the right to record an introspective album about knockin’ on heaven’s door. Mr. Happy Go Lucky, however, is not what most people expected: an acoustic-driven compilation of contemplative whispers and husky regrets. Instead, good ol’ Little Bastard, with the help of techno loop guru and Madonna confidant Junior Vasquez, has written an angry letter to the man in the mirror, an album filled with raging guitar, howling vocals, and relentless drums—both Kenny Aronoff’s authentic skins and Vasquez’s synthesized thumps. With the exception of “Emotional Love” and “Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First),” Mellencamp abandons his Top-40 tendencies and opts for a mesh of Indiana folk-rock and New York hiphop. Sounds like a clumsy partnership, right? Not even close. The hard-driving “Jerry,” complete with sampled maniacal laughter and searing axwork, has Mellencamp wondering if his self-destructive side can ever be tamed. “This May Not Be the End of the World” is the album’s centerpiece: Reminding us that life sucks so deal with it, the singer tears the place apart with the help of Lonnie Pitchford’s nasty slide work and a brewing storm of bass, drums, and electronic blur. Mellencamp gives full rein to Vasquez for the album’s finale, “Life Is Hard,” a swirling mix of sexy bass lines, dance-track beats, and tribal shouts. After taking such a gutsy risk and getting results so unique, Mellencamp should think twice before heading home to his strictly Midwest ways.

—Sean Daly