Look What the Fans Drug In:
A Tribute to the music of Michael Penn
The pop landscape of 1989 was dominated by pre-packaged dance beats and low grade, anthem rock when a new artist – a breath of fresh musical air – appeared on the scene. Michael Penn's emblematic hit, "No Myth" asked the memorable question - What if I were Romeo in Black Jeans? – including a playful literary aside within the irresistible pop hooks, making an indelible impression in an era of processed pap.
Reaching #13 on the pop charts, the song gave Penn national visibility and record label credibility, only being heightened by winning the 1990 MTV Video Award for Best New Artist. Yet, while the mainstream marketplace may momentarily embrace originality and change, it rarely sustains or nourishes it. Penn's intricate melodies and soulful power pop soon sounded out of lock-step with radio tastemakers. As a result, perhaps "No Myth" may best be seen as a dual edged sword: it gave Penn a measure of fame, but then became an unfair benchmark against which he'll always be measured. Patton Oswalt's running joke, "Play the one about the black pants" is so memorable a line because it's funny and true - and just a little bit sad.
But more importantly, "No Myth" invited the audience to the table for what has become a deliriously memorable feast of musical originality and expertise. To have only tasted March's catchy, jangly title track is to have only a dim view into the richness of Penn's music, which includes five full albums, numerous B-sides and covers, as well as a compelling body of soundtrack work.
Look What the Fans Drug In: A Tribute to Michael Penn serves as a dedication to those who have savored every musical crumb and morsel over the past 17 years, but even more, to the artist himself. Many, many compliments to the chef...
-- Dan Armstrong