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Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947
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New album presents 12 new songs set against the backdrop of post-WWII America. Michael Penn is fascinated with the year 1947. On his new record, Penn weaves historical, political and social events and themes into 12 meticulously crafted songs that tell a series of inter-connected stories of human relationships and romance set against the backdrop of post-World War II America. Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947 paints a picture of a Los Angeles that doesn't exist anymore. On this self-produced album, Penn is joined by many longtime collaborators, including Patrick Warren (keyboards), Aimee Mann (background vocals and bass) and former member of L.A. cult band The Grays, Buddy Judge (harmony vocals). Spin Art. 2005.
Los Angeles troubadour Michael Penn offers a compelling argument here that personal obsessions can often be a songwriter's most compelling muse. An intriguing concept album that revolves around Penn's introspective take on the brave new world of post-WW II America as channeled by the thoughts of its protagonists, Mr. Hollywood makes little effort at recreating the era's musical aura. Instead Penn details his retro-L.A. landscape via the emotional states of his song cycle's rich cast of characters (which includes the bewildered returning vet of "Walter Reed" and the shadowy film-noir protagonist of "Room 715, The Apache"), a gambit that effectively bridges the decades: Their pensiveness and wistful anxiety seem all too contemporary. The era's technical/historical landmarks are noted by such brief, impressionistic sound pastiches as "The Transistor," "18 September" (the date the National Security Act was established) and the jaunty "Television Set Waltz." Penn's stately, melancholy way with a ballad forms a firm foundation, yet the album's two-part structural conceit (which replicates LP sides) and such adventurous fare as the hypnotic, ethnically indeterminate dirge "Mary Lynn," "Bad Sign"'s lush pop-blues and the jangly, cautious optimism of "On Automatic" insure it never rests on nostalgia or the merely familiar. --Jerry McCulleySee all Editorial Reviews
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Top customer reviews
If you loved MP4 you'll definately love this. Penn's wicked tongue lashes out with clever lyrics and bitter choruses. His guitar lines are still sweet, and the pace is brisk. I would have prefered more of the angry young man who first caught my ear, but this will do.
Acoustic and smooth.
One of my favorite songs on the album is "Walter Reed," which I interpret as being about a soldier returning from WWII. Not able to fit back in to the life and love he left behind, the song very movingly projects the pain, anger, and isolation that many GIs experienced (and still experience) upon their return home.
Another favorite is "OK," a soothing lullaby for a troubled relationship. No empty promises of a perfect resolution to whatever crisis the song is addressing, but there is at least the hope of a tender and sincere reconciliation.
In sharp contrast to the quiet, gentle "OK" is the bright, peppy "On Automatic." An anthem of frenetic (and possibly irrational) optimism, it's a celebration of high times and fresh starts.
I'd have to say that for me, personally, the weakest song on the album is "You Know How," which is only spoiled for me because MP's phrasing is very reminiscent of Bob Dylan in some parts. It's still a good song, but not my favorite.
In addition to the nine very solid songs on this album, three short concept pieces commemorate specific events from the year 1947, including the Roswell UFO incident and the invention of the transistor. My favorite of these, though, is the "Television Set Waltz." It sounds so much like a period recording that for the few moments it plays, I can almost imagine I'm in another place and time.
If you're a long-time fan of Michael Penn, this album is a must-own. And if you are not familiar with his music, this would be a very good introduction. I feel it represents his best work to date.
Fans of Michael Penn will likely be enthralled by his latest CD, as he continues his tradition of presenting the listener with thoughtful, intelligent lyrics supported by memorable pop hooks.
But it's the darkness below the surface of the glimmer that makes this record hold up to repeated listening.
In some ways, this may be his most subversive offering yet. The songs are ostensibly set in 1947, but are ultimately a reflection of present day dilemmas: the relationship moored in deception - "It's like a play, and the words that I'll say are not for you. They're for the costume" "on a ruse you've come to be depending, baby I'm pretending" ("Pretending") -- or defeat "I've lost the will for fighting over everything" ("Walter Reed.")
Still it's not all doom and gloom in black and white, rather Penn focuses on the shades of gray that more accurately reflect reality in today's Technicolor world. Even the most upbeat tune "On Automatic" seems to suggest, "Yeah, things are looking up, but it's probably all going to hell tomorrow."
"Denton Road" presents one with the unusual perspective and perhaps a bit of dark humor(?) as the recently departed overlooks his viewing with the remark "what's it say about me that I'm bored" and the final verse ends with "I'm in over my head."
"Room 712, The Apache" -- the Apache being a long-gone Las Vegas casino [built in 1932, it was the first Vegas resort to have an elevator - your trivia for the day] -- makes terrific use of a gambling metaphor -- "Baby bet everything, you're gonna lose. But believe it or not, you'll be highly amused. Because what's it worth anyway? It's just another broken part. Give `em your artificial heart."
The metaphors are plentiful throughout Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947, and the songs layered with meaning...and while I've focused on lyrics here, what makes this a record worth owning and listening to (repeatedly) is the way these little stories are presented with melodies that engage and production that enlightens.
The only song I'm not loving is "Mary Lynn" -- while it's chanting quality and dulcimer suggest a down home revival sing-a-long, it is too repetitive for my tastes.
The CD booklet contains additional narrative that ties the songs together (but not too neatly, that's not Mr. Penn's style) and creates a film noir setting.
The final track is an unlisted one -- "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" - which manages to be simultaneously poignant and indignant (parts of aforementioned indignance seem rather pointedly directed towards the man who currently occupies the Oval Office. Bravo!)