This is the most perplexing review I have ever written.
I don’t think Johnny Cash really needs another review, though, considering he has made 80+ albums. There are enough writings about him to fill hundreds of books.
One of those books is his autobiography entitled “Cash: The Autobiography.” I usually do not expect too much from celebrity biographies. It seems they always kindly omit the bad stuff and the times when they were in the wrong. This book is completely different. This was a real man examining himself and giving an explanation for many of his triumphs and tragedies to those that found inspiration through him: his fans.
That’s what brought this album alive to me.
I have owned “American IV: The Man Comes Around” for around a year now. I mainly bought it because I love Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails, “Hurt.” This was ultimately his last hit and last album of new material to be released before his death. The majority of the songs on this album are covers, with a few sprinkles of Cash’s classic writing. The listener is instead forced to focus on the depth of Cash’s voice versus his pomp and circumstance.
Here are the tracks that stuck out the most to me. I narrowed it down a few tracks, but in reality, each track holds it’s own.
“The Man Comes Around” is the opening track. It begins and ends with Cash reciting Bible verses. I initially thought the song was about him coming back around, but it is about God’s impending judgment upon the world. The song expressed Cash’s contentment with his own life and his willingness to be judged on all his wrongs and rights. This was one of the songs written by Cash.
“Hurt” is the second track off this album that stood out. Everybody knows this song and this is Cash’s moving rendition of what one would consider a more contemporary song. His voice lays over the instrumental like sand paper. The chorus sums up his feelings about his previous addictions and actions. He is asking his sweetest friend (June) what had he become. He had built an empire of “dirt” and “everyone left in the end.” This is early 60’s Cash coming back and taking blame for his actions.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” is the fourth track on the album with backing vocals by Fiona Apple. This song seemed to serve as a thank you to all those who had been his “bridge.” He had hit rock bottom many times and he always seemed to have someone come to his rescue.
“I Hung My Head” is the fifth track and was penned by the legendary Sting. This goes back to Cash’s country and outlaw routes. It also shows his excellent vocal acting ability. He told this story as an out of body experience for he became the protagonist in this rough song. This song also shows Cash’s excellent story telling ability.
“Danny Boy” is the tenth track off of the album. This is originally an old Irish folk song. Cash created the arrangement on the album. It is the track listed with the least personnel contributing, which is obvious in its stripped down composition. The song always seems very solemn to me and Cash’s rendition doesn’t fall short. This song is always up for interpretation and one could write for days over Cash’s version and what it meant for him.
“Desperado” is the next track off the album. The song is almost autobiographical to Cash. He had to let somebody love him (June) before it was too late (his own self-destruction). This song also featured vocals from Don Henley who also co-wrote the song.
Lastly, I’d like to touch on his closing song “We’ll Meet Again.” This is actually a very pleasant song about saying farewell, but having confidence that you will see “them” again one day. It’s a profound wrap up to an album that had extreme emotional highs and lows.
With the last strum of the guitar, I feel this album is essentially Johnny Cash’s obituary. I know this is not a new idea among the listening community when talking about this album. It’s a non-traditional obituary though, for instead of listing general accomplishments and family members, he tells of his life through the gravel of his voice. By using other words, we were allowed to hear the pure emotion and the cascading of passion of a man who had lived hard.
In the end, I feel this album is unexplainable. You just need to listen to it and find your own interpretation. This album is a great gift that Cash left all his then current listeners and to those who are just discovering him for the first time. I would suggest that you put on your black lenses and examine this masterpiece through your own life’s accolades and mishaps.