Music » CD Reviews

Michael Penn

Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947 (Spin Art)

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In the five years since MP4: Days Since a Lost Time Accident, Michael Penn has kept busy, producing albums for Liz Phair and wife Aimee Mann, and scoring a movie or two. He's also apparently been reminiscing about the decade before his birth, as the setting of his awkwardly titled new album is the midst of Los Angeles' 1947 postwar cultural shift. Intentionally silly ("The Television Set Waltz") and at other times deeply personal ("Walter Reed"), the net result is a confusing but interesting drama that often collapses under its own weight.

Still, there's something worthwhile here. Though the songs aren't as bright as his 1989 hit "No Myth" (or even 2000's "High Time"), Penn remains an unusually quirky and gifted songwriter, infusing otherwise bland tunes like "A Bad Sign" and "Denton Road" with choruses that stick around longer than expected. And while the pace is slow and acoustic, with Patrick Warren's trademark organ washes providing some of the only color, Penn's still able to twist his listeners' ears with clever couplets ("Sitting there behind a desk/Very Greco-Romanesque," from the solo coda "[P.S.] Millionaire"). It's ambitious, trying to capture the essence of 1947 while pointing out parallels to the musical present. Penn at least earns points for trying.

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