Michael Penn

Free-for-All

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Free-for-All (1992) is the album that proved to skeptics that Michael Penn was neither a one-hit wonder nor an artistic lightweight trading on his famous surname. It's a darker, less immediately engaging album than March, but it's also a far more consistent album than that wildly uneven debut. From the ominous opener, "Long Way Down (Look What the Cat Drug In)," through to the seething closer, "Now We're Even," this is a murky but memorable set of tunes about deception, anger, broken promises, and recriminations. Hardly Frank Stallone territory. Penn and creative partner Patrick Warren (who, just as he did on March, contributes an atmospheric instrumental at the album's halfway point) fill the album with odd, unsettling sounds and trippy textures, but never at the expense of the songs. The creepy atmosphere and prominent production tricks on songs like the raging "Seen the Doctor" (the album's best song and an unfortunate flop as a single) actually enhance the dismissive, bitter lyrics and the nagging guitar hook. Well-reviewed but poor-selling, Free-for-All marked the start of Michael Penn's unfortunate, long battle for a modicum of respect from his record company. It would be five years before he released another album.

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