Michael Penn MP4 (Epic/Fifty Seven)

National Records

Michael Penn

MP4 (Epic/Fifty Seven)

Once you get over the line in "Lucky One," the first song on Michael Penn's fourth album MP4, you thought you'd actually avoided hearing -- the one that chimes out "Here comes the millennium" -- it's all downhill from there. That's the last moment of anything other than estimable originality in music and verse, of a fully fleshed and intelligent take on the world at large set to a pop soundtrack that would make Nick Lowe wish he was 20 years younger. When Penn brings it down, as on "Don't Let Me Go" and "Bucket Brigade," the bemused writer's eye still manages to shoulder through the sadness. Penn writes strong songs, with dense and heady lyrics, resonant melodies, and a knack for rhyme and meter akin to that of Elvis Costello. Witness the candid look at the true and false nature of love and art as found in "Beautiful," or the bleak Romanticism of "Perfect Candidate." Though there don't appear to be any instant hits on the order of "No Myth" or "This and That" from his debut, MP4 rivals any of Penn's albums to date. Besides, who said an instant hit was a measure of quality?

***.5

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