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)

The Braxtons may want to take a tip from big sister Toni, who on her sophomore release Secrets manages to add a few new elements to her diva balladeer repertoire without pummeling listeners with too much diversity. On the CD's first single, the guitar-heavy, spiraling-synth jam "You're Making Me High," Braxton makes a powerful case that she's more than a mouthpiece for drippy ballads. True, it's hard to excuse an appearance by (gasp!) Kenny G, but the pairing of Braxton and producer Keith Crouch on the steamily seductive "Talking in His Sleep" goes a long way toward dulling that unfortunate gaffe. With additional help from studio craftsmen such as Babyface and R. Kelly, Braxton showcases her soul-stirring vocal range, making Secrets well worth exposing. (*** 1/2)

-- Craig D. Lindsey

Volume One
Pinche Gringo

Houston music (it's a fact) is sometimes under-appreciated -- and not just by wayward national observers. Even among the city's most loyal and involved boosters, a certain malaise, a certain hopelessness, perhaps even full-bore disgruntlement, can set in, painting the local tapestry black. The antidote? Just try listening to some of the crap coming out of Dallas these days.

There is -- off in the distance -- a cutting edge where industrial textures and rhythms mesh with metal's grinding guitars to compelling effect. But alas, Pail couldn't see that horizon from a mountaintop on a clear day. Volume One is the four-year-old product of two then-Dallas-based journeyman metal fiends, identified only as Powell and Titsworth, veterans of outfits like Angkor Wat, Plowman and Auschwitz 46.

What Powell and Titsworth don't seem to understand is that noise for noise's sake is hanging around these days on every street corner. To make it interesting you have to add dynamics. Dy-nam-ics. Listen close, guys. There are beginnings and middles and ends to the editing room sweepings here strung together as one long track (I guess that makes it a concept work), but they exist only on the clock counter. All you'll hear is a half-hour of monotony, plus another tacked-on 40 minutes of low-grade audio hum and a "bonus track" that sucks harder than what came before it. This might be serviceable as a random mosh-generator in a live setting, but according to press material, Pail don't do much stage work. I wish they'd done less of this. (P)

Someone writing for something called Study Breaks pretty much summed it up when he described Jibe, another Dallas-bred incarnation, as "alternative-ish." Fair enough. But unless you think Live deserves a full-time tribute band all its own, there's not much room left for discussion. Three hapless players, 11 terrible songs composed on borrowed echo boxes in back corners at the local guitar shop and a vocalist with an acute case of Bono envy. Gosh, I'm trying to think of something else to say ... wait, here it comes ... only pods could make music with this little character. (*)

-- Brad Tyer

CDs are rated on a one to five star scale.

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Craig D. Lindsey
Contact: Craig D. Lindsey
Robin Myrick
Roni Sarig
Brad Tyer