Jagged Little Hill

Upon taking wing, singer finds airways no walk in the park

Linda Perry first came to notice in the 4 Non Blondes in 1993 singing, "25 years and my life is still/Trying to get up that great big hill of hope/For a destination," which on the airwaves didn't sound quite as ridiculous as it reads, since the melody gives her dark-brown voice some jagged hills to climb. Nonetheless, it inspired me to refer to the band as the 4 Non Brains. Then, as far as radio was concerned, she dropped from sight, until suddenly in the '00s she reappeared as a canny producer-songwriter, helping Pink and Christina reconfigure teen pop into teen confessional rock. Back during the airplay hiatus, however, she'd put out a couple of solo albums, the first of which, In Flight, has just been reissued.

What's most noteworthy is her singing. In general it has a finishing-school propriety, the voice well-trained, making sweeps and holding tones; but when she wants to nail us to the wall, she goes deep and harsh, digs into her low register and sandblasts us with sound. It sure gets your attention. It's almost—or often—too ugly. Nonetheless, you don't mistake her for anybody else. The lyrics are all about being suspended between here and there, Linda caught in midflight, not sure where she is but sure it won't last. She's often vague or maudlin ("Learning what I am/Feeling like a bluebird/Flying away"), but then she'll pull off some expert imagery: A song starts "This ain't a walk in the park/But I call it my home" and it turns out to be about an actual walk in a park, a dangerous one, populated by her type of desperate losers, the bad company she hangs with. "Trade your crack for some crack." "The drag queens/The speed freaks/All the homo boys they touch me, baby." As for the overall sound, it's more mainstream than you'd expect—you'd think someone who uses harshness as her ace in the hole would go punk or thrash to provide a context for the harshness; instead, she lets her tough peculiar voice stand out in formal settings, as it were.

 
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