Michael Penn 

MP4: Days Since a Lost Time Accident

Michael Penn
MP4: Days Since a Lost Time Accident
(Fifty Seven/Epic)

Originally a member of the little-known band Doll Congress, Michael Penn, the brother of actors Sean and Chris Penn, silenced the critics who thought he was trying to break into the music business on their coattails when he released his debut album March in 1989. An absolute wonder of Beatles-inspired folk rock, March offered up a substantial hit single in "No Myth," which helped push the album into the upper reaches of the charts. The follow-up single "This and That" found similar success in 1990, but Penn's poor track record since that time is nearly a crime against humanity. His three-year hiatus culminated in the stunning Free for All, a brilliant album that barely remained on the charts long enough to register. Truly confused by this turn of events, Penn took five years to complete the equally impressive Resigned, which met a similar sales fate. He was ultimately dropped by BMG.

Since Resigned, he has scored two Paul Thomas Anderson films (Hard Eight and Boogie Nights), married Aimee Mann (whose songs form the inspiration for Anderson's newest film, Magnolia). MP4: Days Since a Lost Time Accident, his fourth album and first for Epic, finds him in much better straits. Everything that Penn has done well over the course of his first three releases is distilled and channeled into the best album of his career and arguably what may be considered one of the finest of the year.

MP4 explodes with the anthemic "Lucky One," a self-described nursery rhyme for the millennium, whose Elvis Costello-like wordplay and quirky pop rhythms are amplifications of all the qualities that have distinguished Penn's albums from the beginning. After setting the bar, Penn continues hitting the same high level throughout MP4, from the weary "Beautiful" to the Rubber Soul revue of "Don't Let Me Go" and the moodily captivating closer "Bucket Brigade." Penn's penchant for Beatlesque mannerisms results in a balance between Lennon's darkness and McCartney's lightness ("Footdown," "Perfect Candidate"). With MP4, Penn has further cemented his reputation as a postmodern pop genius and, in doing so, made a whole lot of people look foolish for having ignored his last two brilliant contributions. -- Brian Baker

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