Mr Hollywood Jr. 1947
Michael Penn's new album, his fifth overall, is his first recorded and
released outside of the major record labels. Recorded at his home
studio, the album is generally set in post-World War II Los Angeles,
That year has always held a fascination for Penn, he's been obsessed
with it since his teens. It's the year where the world changed. The
Department of War changed its name to the Department of Defense. That
period also saw the invention of the transistor, and Chuck Yeager
broke the speed of sound. And Michael Penn's father, TV director Leo
Penn, was blacklisted in the same year for attending pro-union
The album begins with the song "Walter Reed," one of the album's best
songs. The track's steadily-building, confident melody belies its
moody lyrics about an emotionally-scarred soldier seeking redemption
at the army medical hospital of the title.
But though there's a concept to the album, Penn doesn't consider
Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947 to be a concept album. There's not a
storyline weaving all the songs together, merely thematic threads and
a common setting. For example, "Mary Lynn" and "You Know How" are
songs that deal with affairs and intrigue of the heart with little to
connect them to 1947.
Speaking of "Mary Lynn," though—it's a nicely-produced love song,
simple on paper, but fleshed out with mid-tempo stomping and clapping
percussion, and accented by flutes and strings. A fine example of the
layered, home-studio recording techniques practiced by Penn, who also
served as his own producer.
Amongst the very few people helping Penn on Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947 are
longtime compatriot and keyboardist Patrick Warren and his significant
other Aimee Mann, who contributes some backing vocals and occasional
Three of the CD's 13 tracks are brief instrumental mood pieces, one
nominally celebrating the invention of the transistor, another the
spread of television. The third is the ominous "September 18," marking
the 1947 date when the National Security Act became law, establishing
the modern Department of Defense.
For fans, Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947 is a home run. Non-fans may
consider a few tracks to be filler, but it's by any viewpoint a strong
album with some terrific songs. It's classic Michael Penn: urbane,
tuneful, and intelligent pop music.