John Mellencamp means for Freedom's Road to be a straight-from-the-heartland shot of politically unifying garage rock that describes a big-tent America with room enough both “for science to live” and “for religion to forgive.”

Instead, it's a car commercial. That's because the Hoosier rocker sold “Our Country” to GM to help sell Chevy Silverados in the most overbearing ad campaign of late 2006. (If you've been watching the NFL on television this season, you've heard the song at least 17,000 times.) It's also because Mellencamp is guilty of writing politically ambitious songs that are so vague and devoid of specificity (“I do believe there's a dream for everyone”) that they seem to be written in hopes of being co-opted.

On Freedom's Road, he also pulls this off with “The Americans,” in which he sings over a lumbering rhythm, “I like my heroes to be honest and strong” and “I'm an American, and I respect your point of view.” He's also culpable of muddy thinking on the antiracist but frankly confusing “Jim Crow,” which is not aided by folkie Joan Baez's lugubrious vocal.

The '60s-style “Freedom's Road” is by no means a washout – the hopeful “Forgiveness” and spooky “Rural Route” both find the rocker coming off as open-minded and decent on Woody Guthrie-inspired folk-rock tunes. And the closing “Rodeo Clown,” which takes the Bush administration to task, citing “blood on the hands of an arrogant nation,” might have qualified as a bold move were it not buried at the end of the disc as a hidden track.

Grade: D