MR. HOLLYWOOD, JR. 1947

Michael Penn

Sonic soul mates Michael Penn and Aimee Mann are like a married couple who've been together so long they can't help completing each other's sentences. In their case, though, they're not like a married couple -- they actually are one. And for better or worse, they can't help completing each other's records.

Penn's latest, "Mr. Hollywood, Jr. 1947," follows closely behind Mann's "The Forgotten Arm," which appeared last May. Both feature gorgeous, Beatlesque melody-making and guitar work that'll leave you wondering if maybe George Harrison is still among us.

Trouble is, Penn's new one -- like Mann's -- sometimes feels like a genre exercise, a record made by a talented artist in the throes of an unshakable Fab Four fetish.

The piano ballad "Denton Road" could be a rough draft of "Hey Jude," for instance, while the raga-rocker "Mary Lynn" sounds like a souvenir left over from the Beatles' fabled pilgrimage to India. And the disc's plodding nadir, "You Know How," sounds like a Julian Lennon outtake.

At his best, though, Penn updates his Mersey-beat poetry with more contemporary sounds. "Room 712, The Apache" is a percussive and catchy keeper, as is "Walter Reed," a bittersweet pop-rocker that would sound great on an iPod sandwiched between something from Elliott Smith's last album and Coldplay's "Speed of Sound."

On balance, Penn's latest edges out his wife's, thanks mainly -- and ironically -- to his far homelier voice, which cuts nicely against the grain of his outsize tunesmithery. At least until the overdramatic Mann gets back in touch with her goofier, 'Til Tuesday roots, her comparatively low-key hubby will likely remain the couple's better musical half.

-- Shannon Zimmerman