October 19, 2005

Linda Perry "In Flight"

Way back in the late 1990s, I worked part time at a record store. One day, I opened up a package from a "hot rock" publicity firm. Inside was a bundle of records from their "hot rock" picks for that month. Normally, these bands were bad nu-metal or washed-up hard rock bands trying to regain their composure and/or credibility, so I never gave these packages much thought. The press sheet tauted the"amazing" new record by former lead singer of 4 Non Blondes, Linda Perry. I really didn't care that much, but as it listed Lisa Germano as a performer in her band, I had to acquiesce to my Germano-love. So I look in the pile of CD's and I pull hers out. The first thing I notice is the utterly horrid cover art. It was this grotesque, pseudo-gothy artwork of a hot air balloon and text written in really laughable handwriting. You know how they say you can't judge a record by its cover? In the case of In Flight, it was hard not to judge it. So I put the record in my backpack and took it home for a listen.

When I got home, it took me less than ten minutes for me to realize that I wasn't going to like it. The music? Let's just say that it was bombastic, overwrought with melodramatic singing. In my mind, she was trying to imitate Johnette Napolitano, and the music sounded like nothing more than bad blues-rock. I listened to it once, put it in a box with some other CD's, and chose to forget about it. (And apparently Interscope couldn't give In Flight away, so they decided to do just that: give it away. Over the next few months, our store received no less than a dozen copies of this record to give away or sell. In 2002, which was the last time I went in the store, those records had yet to sell.)

Jump to summer 2005, and the announcement that Kill Rock Stars would be reissuing In Flight. Talk about an out-of-the-blue announcement! Thoughts instantly raced back to 1996, when I heard that godawful mess of a record for the first (and only) time. Still, knowing that Slim Moon don't release no mess, the notion perplexed me: did the man actually hear something in this record? What was the logic here? Is it possible that I missed something the first time around? After all, I was just a twenty-something music snob back in those days. So, I thought I'd check it out. I tried to find my copy of the record, but to no avail--apparently my tendency to keep bad records lost had once again claimed another victim. When it came in the mail a few weeks ago, I opened my mind a little bit further than I did nine years ago. (The first thing worth noting about this reissue is that the horrid cover art has been replaced with a much more subtle design.)

I'm glad I did, because I discovered that In Flight is an amazing record. Unlike many musicians at the time--or today, as a matter of fact--Perry's singing voice rings with true power; it makes her sound like a weary old soul who had been through hell and back. This power is both good and bad; while it gives her songs an emotional depth and very gritty, real power, it also tends to weigh down the songs, as well as creating a sound that's not dissimilar from one track to another. It's easy to understand why some people dismissed In Flight because of this; there's only so much melodrama one can take, especially if the songs all tend to share the same tempo throughout.

Setting those quibbles aside is important, though, because in so doing, you'll discover some really fabulous music. And it's not that Perry can't sing--it's that she has a powerful voice but a seemingly limited range. Note the word 'seemingly,' though, because at various times throughout In Flight, she proves that she is more than a one-trick melodramatic pony. True, songs like the excellent "Fill Me Up" and "Freeway" start off gentle but then bring out her powerful, ass-kicking voice--backed with some excellent accompaniment--but both songs return to the gentle side. "Knock Me Out" is a dark, rainy blues number that features Grace Slick, but it's a testament to Perry's skill that it's nearly impossible to distinguish her voice with Slick's older, hardened voice. "Taken" is a quiet number with a hushed, understated synth melody and some downright gentle falsetto. Then there's the wonderfully grand "Too Deep," which features Perry singing painful words about disillusion about one's talents and one's self, while an orchestra builds the song up and makes it louder and bigger and powerful and painful, creating the sensation that one is falling into the pit of despair. The only time In Flight really falters is on the silly cabaret-styled "Fruitloop Daydream," but that's towards the end of the record, and Perry quickly compensates with two excellent songs, "Machine Man" and the gentle, hushed title track--a simple song about the risks of taking a risk and coming forward and flying out on one's own. It's a fitting finale to a complex, often heavy and emotionally draining listening experience.

In Flight is a powerful record that will put some people off. For others, it will draw you back for repeated listens. Yeah, she was in 4 Non Blones. Forget about them. Yeah, at times her voice is extremely over-the-top and can make songs sound alike--but you must not be distracted by the obvious, you must look past that and you must listen to everything. In Flight is a difficult record; it's not an easy listen, but for those willing to work past these difficulties, the reward is the same: discovering that In Flight is more than a mere alternative-rock anomaly--it's a stunning masterpiece and a lost classic.

And to you, Ms. Perry, I have but one thing to say: I'm sorry. I was wrong.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.killrockstars.com/inflight
Label Website: http://www.killrockstars.com

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