Michael Penn MP4

Distancing himself from his family's acting heritage must have been a difficult task, but Michael Penn has managed to find his niche in songwriting - something that comes across surprisingly well on MP4, his fourth album release. Since '97s Resigned, he has kept himself busy scoring films (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights), but with MP4 he put his attention back into the studio and assembled quite a team, with Brendan O'Brien handling production on the rousing "Lucky One" and vocal assistance from Grant Lee Phillips (Grant Lee Buffalo), his brother Chris and his wife, Aimee Mann. The end result comes out sounding a lot like the retro-pop/rock of Matthew Sweet and Velvet Crush, with amazing similarities to the latter, especially in his voice. Not exactly groundbreaking work, the album is still a pleasure to listen to. "Trampoline," "Out Of Its Misery" and the impressive "Lucky One" are inspiring anthems that really standout. On the downside, many of the remaining tracks are slower ballads and cause the album to lose its zing. Now there's nothing wrong with slowing things down, but something just doesn't click on these quieter moments - it almost sounds as if he's trying too hard. He should have worked more with O'Brien, instead of just on the single track. The standout songs are strong enough to make MP4 a worthwhile release. (Epic)