February 07, 2000 12:00 PM

Michael Penn (Epic)

Too bad Penn wasn’t born in time to bloom during the 1970s. In that decade, a golden age for singer-songwriters, solo performers like Jackson Browne scored pop hits with songs that rode catchy melodies to convey complex moods and messages. Penn, actor Sean’s brother, practices similar craftsmanship, but at 41, he is a composer who has enjoyed minimal market share and airplay. That may change with this, his fourth album, on which Penn gives his witty songs a bright, hook-bristling pop polish. With backing vocals by his wife, Aimee Mann, and brother actor Christopher, Penn fills his disc with soaring harmonies, time signature changes and studio sleights of hand worthy of the all-time pop radio champs who inspired him—the Beatles.

Bottom Line: Health food for the melody-starved

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