Fingertips Explores the Archives: Michael Penn - Walter Reed
Jeremy from Fingertips joins us every Friday as he scours the betterPropaganda archives, highlighting gems buried a few years back in our database.
This week we bring you "Walter Reed" from Michael Penn.
Michael Penn can't catch a break. The guy spent the first half of his musical career battling the perception that he was "only" Sean Penn's older brother (when anyone was paying any attention at all), and now seems destined to spend the second half identified "merely" as Aimee Mann's husband. On top of this, he had his pop cultural moment early--bursting on the musical scene with the brilliant semi-hit "No Myth" from his first CD, March, he has sold relatively few albums since. During the '90s he found himself in one of those weird only-in-the-record-industry stories in which he was neither allowed to make a record nor to break his contract for four years. It also didn't help that he released what strikes me as his only weak-ish CD--2000's cleverly titled MP4 ('twas his fourth album, see)--right when his wife was hitting her stride in terms of widespread recognition and critical regard. Like I said, he can't catch a break, which is a terrible shame as he is a seriously talented singer/songwriter with an indelible voice, an enviable sense of craft, and a proven knack for neo-Beatle-isms. So, okay, "Walter Reed": a song from his most recent--and utterly ignored--CD, Mr. Hollywood, Jr., 1947. Typically midtempo and crisp, the song alternates a subdued lyric with a classically Penn-ish melodic chorus hook, so perfect in its execution that it overcomes what has been the only downside to much of Penn's 21st-century output, which is a lack of dynamic variation. But this one doesn't need to rock harder or move faster to sound exactly right. Mr. Hollywood, Jr., 1947 is a concept album of sorts, ruminating on American society in the immediate aftermath of World War II; it was released in 2005 on Penn's own Mimeograph Records.
- Jeremy Schlosberg