There are very few indie artists out there who don’t dream of that smash single that propels them to the top—but the truth is, it’s a double-edged sword when it happens. Instant fame comes with a huge set of expectations for musical maturity that the uninitiated aren’t always prepared for—and too often, they just can’t keep up. Ever since Christina Perri found that instant fame with “Jar of Hearts” a few years ago, I’ve had this feeling in watching her career that she’s been running to catch up, trying desperately to grow into shoes four sizes too big for her—trying to attain the musical maturity and range that is needed to keep people’s interest at the mainstream level. While her debut album lovestrong showed promise (and her Twilight hit “A Thousand Years” certainly helped matters), I was still uncertain. With her sophomore release Head or Heart, however, there are signs that Perri might actually grow into these shoes, after all.
To be clear about what I’m saying, it isn’t Perri’s talent, nor even her songwriting skills, that have been her biggest obstacle (otherwise, “Jar of Hearts” wouldn’t have happened in the first place). Rather, it’s her range, her ability to write and sing something other than forlorn and/or angsty love ballads, that has been at issue. When her single “Human” was released last November, I mentioned my concerns that every one of Perri’s singles thus far has been this same type of slow, string-laden ballad. This, too, was lovestrong’s weakness, even though it was enough to keep her on tour for a year and ultimately went Gold in the UK and Australia. She does this stuff well, but it will only carry her for so long. My concern was that without extending her reach into new territory, her success would still be short-lived.
Enter Head or Heart. While there’s still plenty of room to grow, Christina Perri has risen to the challenge, and actually put out a record with some range. There are even some tunes on this record that could loosely be considered uptempo. “Burning Gold” is already one of my favorites, along with “One Night,” “Shot Me In the Heart,” and a quirky duet with Ed Sheeran on “Be My Forever.” In all these tracks, Perri not only stretches herself into new territory, but sits there comfortably, her voice covering the ground seamlessly. It doesn’t sound forced—it sounds like she belongs here. It’s not a huge amount of range, but it is range nonetheless—a sign that she’s growing as an artist.
Admittedly, ballads are still her strongest suit (nothing wrong with that), and Perri delivers some new classics with “Sea of Lovers”, “Butterfly” and the aforementioned “Human.” Lyrically, she stays in familiar territory (the album title is reflecting on the tension between logic and emotion in relationships), but her lyrics do occasionally extend beyond the basic who-do-you-think-you-are-i-can’t-believe-i-fell-for-you stuff into more poetic and reflective expression. “One night I’ll be the moon / Hanging over you / Spilling all over your body / Covering all your wounds,” she sings on “One Night.” And perhaps the most self-aware lyric of the record can be found on “Run”: “I keep trying to find happiness in everybody else.”
So…Christina Perri is still running to catch up with her runaway success, but with Head or Heart, at least she’s gaining on it. This is not a defining moment for her, but it is certainly her most mature work so far. And it gives me hope that this talented artist may overcome the odds, beat instant success at its own game, and actually forge a future in this business.