This is Michael Penn’s first appearance on the blog in three and a half years, when I named his sophomore album Free-For-All my second-favorite of 1992. Today’s song comes from the same album.
I have a theory on why Penn never became a bigger star. I think his lyrics are just too inscrutable. His one hit, ‘No Myth,’ was easy enough to decipher. “What if I were Romeo in black jeans?” is a great, memorable line that doesn’t make you scratch your head like so many of this later songs.
My #2 album of 1992 probably wouldn’t be in this spot if this list was less subjective. I don’t mean that as a slight to Michael Penn, whose sophomore album Free-For-All is a folk pop gem, but it’s hard to make an argument for this record being revelatory or important or any of the other highbrow things that land albums on lists like this.
But my list is entirely subjective, and Free-For-All was the soundtrack of one of the most important summers of my life, so damn it, here it is.
‘Footdown’ is the fifth track on Michael Penn’s fourth album, 2000’s MP4: Days Since a Lost Time Accident. And it marks the very moment when he went from one of my favorite artists to an afterthought.
That’s a lot to hang on one song, I know.
Penn’s first three albums were brilliant. 1989’s March was a glistening pop debut, featuring his only true hit (‘No Myth’) and nine other songs even better than that one. In ’92, he avoided the sophomore slump with Free-For-All, an even deeper and more rewarding record. And ’97’s Resigned continued the winning streak.
Michael Penn is a less prolific, more Beatles-influenced version of Ron Sexsmith, whom I wrote about last week.
Like Sexsmith, Penn is as consistent as the sunrise — quality-wise — when it comes to delivering his brand of polished power pop.
But unlike Sexsmith, who reliably releases albums every couple of years or more, Penn is prone to long hiatuses.
I can’t post a Michael Penn song on this blog without bemoaning his prolonged absence from the music scene.
Today’s track is a bit of Beatles-esque filler from his most recent album, Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947. That record came out in 2005 — yes, eight years ago!
That’s not a hiatus… that’s retirement.
Time for some more ‘Pure Pop,’ this time in the person of Mr. Michael Penn.
Penn’s biggest influence has always been the ultimate pop band, The Beatles, and he’s never really strayed from his winning formula.
From the “Romeo in black jeans” exuberance of his first and only hit, ‘No Myth,’ to the last track of his last album, 2005’s Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947, Penn has delivered one hook after another, demonstrating talent and consistency that his more famous contemporaries would kill for.
Best Albums of the 80s – #19
March – Michael Penn (1989)
I ranked Michael Penn’s second album, Free-For-All, higher on my list of 90s albums than his debut album sits here, but I consider them essentially equals.
Free-For-All owes its placement to a weaker field overall as well as my personal associations (it belongs to that fabled class of ’92, after all).