SCIENCE FICTION MUSIC REVIEW: "Free For All" and "Resigned" by Michael Penn

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We haven't done one of these for a while, and this'll be a short one dealing with something that's stymied me as to how to deal with it for a bit.

Michael Penn (Brother of Sean, Husband of Aimee Mann) is the vaguely alterna- vaugely folkie- musician who had a big hit in the late eighties with "No Myth," an absolutely great song. Remember that one?

He's had at least four albums. There may be more, but I kind of stopped counting after "MP4" (Clever title). There's a sameness that pervades his music. None of it is bad, but if you ever wonder why he never equalled the success of his one hit, I think it's simply that "No Myth" wasn't the sound nor style he was going for. I think he wants exactly what he's got - four albums that all sound exactly like each other - and the one hit was a hit specifically because it sounded like nothing else he's ever done. The same is true of The Church, an almost preternaturally talented band that seems oddly uninterested in the crunchy, tasty, creepysexycool nuggets of greatness that pop up intermittently on their albums; yet overwhelmingly interested in the somewhat droning, dull connective tissue that these morsels together. "Forget the candy, I want more wrapper!" is the odd impression I get from these acts.

Mr. Penn has (or had) an obsession with the best Science Fiction show ever, "The Prisoner." Yes, it really was an SF show, just accept it and move on. There were clones, weird artificial life forms, conspiracies, supercomputers, mind control, Orwellian crap galore, technological revivification, you name it. It's an SF show, though it obviously fits into the "Spy Fi" subgenre.

In 1992 Penn released "Free For All," an album title based on a specific episode of "The Prisoner" (and one of the more interesting ones.) No one, myself included, attached any significance to it at the time, it's just a name. In 1997 he released the more overt "Resigned." It's album cover was a closeup of a file cabinet that says "Resigned" and the back cover was a photo of Penn that had been deliberately XXXXed out with a typewriter.

Lacking the significance of all that? Check this out:

Here's the thing: Just as I alluded to above, some people don't realize The Prisoner is SF. They respond badly when you say it is, and worse when you prove it. Why? Well, I think there's a lot of people who don't know what SF is, and don't like it based on their misunderstanding. Or perhaps they dislike it because most of it is admittedly rather stupid. Or perhaps they just dislike it because they think it's beneath them. Hell, SF is beneath most of us, but since when has that ever stopped anything? McDonalds is beneath my dignaty as a person who likes food, but I'm there twice a week just the same.

Anyway, they're invested in the show, and they just think "It's trippy existentialist stuff," never realizing that Trippy Existentialist Stuff is basically our genre's stock in trade. They resent it. They argue disingenuously against it like a pretentuous undergraduate lit major trying to claim Kurt Vonnegutt isn't what he clearly is. Screw 'em, who cares.

I think Michael Penn is one of those people.

I don't think he realizes The Prisoner is SF, I think if you told him it was, he'd be aghast. That's the impression that I get.

Which brings me to the bit that's been stymieing me: What do I do when things that appear to be SF albums are not SF albums? Do I review 'em, or ignore them, or what?

I've decided I should warn you. Both these albums *LOOK* like SF, smell like SF, taste like SF, but brother, they ain't SF! (Though "Like Egypt Was" is a pretty good song, and lots of people seem to like "Long Way Down," neither are even remotely in the genre). It's just 'dane music, and while there's nothing wrong with it, it's a little boring by my weird-ass tastes.

So I guess the bottom line here is that if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like, but if you're looking for SF-themed music, you're better off sticking with "2112" or early "Yes." There's none of that here.