Song of the Day #1,362: ‘Bunker Hill’ – Michael Penn

Best Albums of the 90s – #12
Free-For-All – Michael Penn (1992)

Another 1992 release, Michael Penn’s Free-For-All is more evocative of that year than any other on this list.

This album is the soundtrack of the summer of Hurricane Andrew, and listening to it today in my car, I half expect to turn the corner and see a downed ficus tree or a procession of National Guard trucks, as I did for several weeks in my Coconut Grove neighborhood.

Penn initially scored a minor hit in 1989 with March and its lead-off single, ‘No Myth.’ He waited three years to release the follow-up, and with Free-For-All managed to emphatically avoid the sophomore slump.

I once contemplated a list of the best second albums ever, acknowledging the fact that many artists come out of the gate strong but lose their footing the next time up to bat (apologies for the mixed metaphor).

Oddly, seven of the records I’ve considered for that list — including today’s featured album — appear on my 90s list.

Michael Penn released two more full-length albums after this one, as well as a glorified EP masquerading as an album in 2005 that remains his last recorded work. I’d say he’s well overdue for a comeback.

Always thought it was a game with us
Move until enough’s enough
into a picture-perfect view
I’d like to rip it up with you
Why would anybody leave this place?
It’s overdrawn
and won’t erase
And if you’re feeling incomplete
the line is stretching up the street

So take a look
but you might stay until
you have counted every light from Bunker Hill
Take a coat you’re going to freeze

My baby sees every sentence with an underline
never uses turpentine
Put out a fleece and build a kite
A siren’s going off tonight

Lay your head down
Do you call this chance?
Found the exit
this entrance
Now’s the time
(and it is still)
I’m sorry that I kept you waiting here until

Hey, Luanda
do you want a thrill?
We can watch the lights shine up from Bunker Hill
But if it puts your heart at ease
my baby, please…

but you can’t hide
Impossible. You’re lit from the inside
And all I’ve got to do is
keep my eyes above the ground
to see you move around

The only points of light are fires on Vermont
Somebody must suspect that all we really want
is a tranquilizer gun to fill
It’s a free-for-all on Bunker Hill
and everybody wets their knees
on the trapeze…

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,362: ‘Bunker Hill’ – Michael Penn

  1. pegclifton says:

    Would some one please interpret these lyrics for me??

  2. Clay says:

    I’d love to hear any interpretations as well. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher.

  3. Dana says:

    I’m thinking this is all a drug metaphor–sort of a spin on “Strawberry Fields.”

    I am far more familiar with Penn’s debut album than this one, but I have liiked the few songs I have heard from his second album, whether they have been featured on your blog or popped up on the iPod.

    Would love to hear your list of strong second albums. A few that come to my mind: Joel’s Piano Man. Elton John’s self titled album. Springsteen’s Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. Lovett’s Pontiac. Newman’s 12 songs. Crows’ Recovering the Satellites (though maybe not as strong as the 2 albums following it), Costello’s This Year’s Model (actually not one of my favorites, but I know it’s one of yours)

  4. TK says:

    Alot of it has to do with the LA Riots. “The only points of light are fires on Vermont,” line is an ode to President Bush and his 1000 points of light, and how rediculious it all seemed during the LA Riots.

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