Linda Perry
In Flight

"Simplify, don't amplify" is Linda Perry's mantra these days. On her solo debut, In Flight, Perry leaves behind her platinum success story, 4 Non Blondes, and sets out to create a headphones-friendly CD along the lines of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. She just about pulls it off, turning the howling, rip-your-heart-out emoting of her former band inward, to stunning effect.

In case you're wondering, Perry is still full of fire, but now she also recognizes the value of the slow simmer. Here, there's a more peaceful explosion going on, with violins, acoustic guitars and organs drawing out the subtle elements of Perry's songwriting. As a singer, Perry is surprisingly good at keeping quiet, displaying a range and an intuition toward subtlety that most 4 Non Blondes fans likely never knew existed.

While some songs veer a bit too close to picked-over '70s hard-rock formulas, In Flight, as a whole, is an exhilarating amusement ride of majestic peaks and harrowing dips. Through it all, Perry maintains a mountain guide's sure footing on the steep downward slope of addiction, even while wading chest-deep in the alcohol-soaked trilogy ("Life in a Bottle," "Fill Me Up" and the slow-burn duet with Grace Slick, "Knock Me Out") that anchors the CD. Granted, there are instances on In Flight where she could stand to lighten up a little, but in the end, Perry proves she's well worth the trouble -- at any volume. (*** 1/2)

-- Robin Myrick
Linda Perry performs Wednesday, November 20, at the Urban Art Bar.

Marilyn Manson
Antichrist Superstar

Raising the specter of rock and roll evil without sounding like a deluded clown is getting to be a tougher and tougher trick to turn. For every Trent Reznor or White Zombie pulling it off either through genuine derangement or campy slapstick, there's a half-dozen Laibachs, Danzigs and Ministries wallowing in the sewers of their own uncut pretension.

Marilyn Manson -- the freak-man out front and the shifting band that carries his fake name -- gets away with its overblown good-versus-evil shtick (with some production help from Reznor) partly because there's an undertow of weird humor beneath the devil-was-an-angel-too rhetoric, partly because Manson seems to have such a grand time playing the media game to his advantage and partly through a sincere dedication to the graphic aesthetic of dark-side hallucination.

But mostly, Marilyn Manson's evil appeal is convincing because Marilyn Manson rocks like hell. The industrial/electronic samplings inherent to the style jag in and out as punctuation, but the sentences themselves are all angry drums and wild guitars, swept along by some compulsive rage that, unlike your generic bad attitude, can't be faked. And frontman Manson has figured out that if you alternate between raw screaming and ominous whispers, you can double the range of evil-rock competitors who've mastered only one approach.

It's all a game, of course, and anyone who takes Manson's Kabbala/numerology/Anton LaVey fixation seriously probably needs more help than anyone writing for a newspaper can responsibly offer. But for the less impressionable, Manson offers as good an excuse as any to bounce your skull off a door frame and like it. And if you happen to be Alice Cooper, it has the added virtue of making you feel like it wasn't all just a horrible waste of time and makeup after all. (****)

-- Brad Tyer

Various Artists
Flippin' the Script: Rap Meets Poetry
Mouth Almighty/Mercury

Remember the spoken-word "craze" a few years ago -- all the hip-hop poets on MTV and the trendy magazines declaring "poetry is back"? Well if it ever was back, it sure left again in a hurry. Once the novelty wore off, people remembered that poems were just like song lyrics, except they didn't have a beat. And without a beat, they weren't very much use to audiences weaned on pop music.

What remains of the poetry revival is Mouth Almighty Records, a label formed by Bob Holman and Bill Adler, ringleaders of the original "poetry slam" scene in downtown New York. Mouth Almighty's second release, Flippin' the Script: Rap Meets Poetry, captures the best moments from the spirited slams that, between 1993 and '95, brought together rappers and poets in a spoken-word no man's land. Seventeen different performers, from the well-known (poet/playwright Sekou Sundiata, cultural critic Greg Tate, UMCs rapper Kool Kim) to the less-known (Dasez, 17, High Priest) take turns at the mike, with Holman hosting.

Some of the tracks are a cappella raps, some are freeform stories, some are little more than mouth sounds. As with most of what passes for spoken poetry, all are better classified as monologues or performance art, since most are unstructured, proselike and need a live reading to be appreciated. Even so, Flippin' the Script does an admirable job of working within the format's limitations. (***)

-- Roni Sarig

The Braxtons
So Many Ways
Toni Braxton

Seemingly out of nowhere, Toni Braxton's little sisters have sprung up with a promising debut CD, So Many Ways, that's impressively defined by its lovely harmonies. The CD is aided greatly by a slew of dynamo producers that includes, most notably, Jermaine Dupri. So Many Ways's only setback is its indecisiveness. Like many new acts, the Braxtons fall victim to the "too-much, too-soon" urge, dabbling in a little bit of everything and losing their true voice in the process. Nowhere is this more evident than on the CD's final track, a bloated nine-minute disco epic that should have been left for scrap. (PPP)

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