Saturday, July 30, 2011

Michael Penn - March

March (1989) ***1/2

Michael Penn was another one of those tasteful singer-songwriters with a penchant for folky Beatlesesque power-pop who emerged around the turn of the '90s to bid the glossy synth-dominated '80s adieu.  His debut single and biggest hit, "No Myth," sounded like a fresh marvel on the airwaves at the time, with its crisp, sprightly acoustic strum and clever, literate lyrics best remembered for the troubadour's query, "What if I were Romeo in black jeans?"  The followup, "This and That," was nearly as good if not nearly as big a hit, and between the singles you have a string of subtler, less immediately catchy and somewhat less fulfilling cuts:  album tracks, in other words.  But no, just because the two singles outshine the rest doesn't mean that this is hit singles + filler:  give them a chance to sink in, and the remaining cuts peek out to show themselves as finely cut gems of craft.  "Half Harvest," suffers the most because as track #2 it sits uncomfortably between opener "No Myth," and track #3 "This and That," and thus amounts to the least memorable track simply due to its placing; when, in fact, if you listen to it in isolation, it leaps out as a thoughtful, well-constructed tune and one of the album's strongest cuts.  The entire first side of the album is consistently excellent, in fact, being rounded out with the rapid-fire Dylanesque wordplay of "Brave New World," and closing with the tender but rueful ballad, "Innocent One".  The second side is somewhat shakier, with the cleverness of "Cupid's Got a Brand New Gun," rather forced and excessive, and "Big House," rather ponderous, but the not-quite-bedlameque "Bedlam Boys," and the moody, "Battle Room," are back up the game, and the horn-infested closer, "Evenfall" is kind of fun.  Penn's sharp baritone and acoustic-based power-pop style bring Lindsey Buckingham comparisons to mind; so, anyone interested in a Fleetwood Mac album consisting solely of Buckingham songs, this one's a reasonable facsimile.  Well, you could check out one of Buckingham's own several solo albums, but I've heard all of those and they're all disappointing.  This one's better.

P.S.  I almost got through this review without mentioning the obligatory family ties.  Yes, Mr. Penn is indeed the brother of Sean and Chris.  And he later married Aimee Mann.


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