Song of the Day #442: ‘On Automatic’ – Michael Penn

mrhollywoodAfter MP4 predictably failed to make a commercial splash, Michael Penn went on his biggest hiatus yet — five years — before releasing Mr. Hollywood, Jr. 1947 in 2005. This was the first of Penn’s albums that struck me off the bat as a disappointment. Not because of the songs, which are up to his usual standards, but because after seven years he delivered an album with a great big hole in its middle — a four-song stretch consisting of a couple of low-key instrumentals and two tracks of ambient noise and transistor radio feedback.

I guess he was going for a vibe fitting the year mentioned in the title but I would have preferred more songs in place of a concept album. Songs have always been what Michael Penn does best.

The song I like best on Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947 is a quick little ditty tucked away at the end called ‘On Automatic.’ It’s fast and fun and ripe for a singalong. It’s the kind of effortless pure pop confection that few people write these days. Michael Penn writes them in his sleep. Here’s hoping he continues to do so for a long, long time.

I’m on automatic
And you gotta flip the switch
Baby there’s a box in the attic
But I couldn’t tell you which was which
And it’s become a running joke
I’m what you might call simple folk
But everything’ll turn out fine

Things are looking up
In the meantime
Things are looking up

I’m swinging through the top of the valley
Felling like the missing link
But there’s another schematic
And look, she’s getting me a drink
While putting flowers on his crypt
‘Cause Valentino’s lost the script
But everything’ll turn out fine

Things are looking up
In the meantime
Things are looking up

You blew another ring
I thought you’d quit
Along with calling misfits
But it’s me you’re looking up

I’m on automatic
The only person left to frisk
I know I’m being over-dramatic
But I think I’m going to run that risk
Of walking down the same old plank
And maybe I’m about to tank
But everything’ll turn out fine

Things are looking up
In the meantime
Things are looking up
In the meantime

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #442: ‘On Automatic’ – Michael Penn

  1. Amy says:

    ?! I don’t get it. What’s the concept? Why would anyone want to listen to that? Do the songs that lead into and from it solidify “the concept” in some way. Please explain to me, because I am shaking my head with incredulity that a studio does think that releasing THAT album is okay.

    As for today’s song, it certainly is fun in terms of the music, but the lyrics are a bit cryptic, no? Is he singing from the persona of a man (with a woman who gets his drinks?) or a singer (whose album, delayed 7 years, could only be produced once someone found the right switch in the “attic” (his brain?)? He’s walking down the same old plank and about to tank – I’m guessing both are metaphors for his albums not selling?

    I’m now thoroughly depressed 😉

  2. Clay says:

    Yes, the other songs stick to the theme, more or less. He’s always been a cryptic writer. The non-songs last only a couple of minutes and are relatively effective at setting a mood… my objection is more that I hoped for 12 new songs and got eight.

    As for the meaning of this song, I have absolutely no idea. 🙂

  3. Dana says:

    hard to believe Amy hears this song and gets depressed. It’s a rather upbeat song to my ears.

    Anyway, I hear Penn is going to team up Rihana and Kanye on his 2010 release, so I expect a big hit will come from that.

  4. Betty says:

    “Anyway, I hear Penn is going to team up Rihana and Kanye on his 2010 release, ”

    Now that’s depressing…

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