Sunday, December 08, 2013

Katy Perry: Still stuck in a teenage dream

album review

Her loyal fans may lap it up but musically Prism is more of the same from Katy Perry

Singer: Katy Perry
Album: Prism

A few years after her attempts to become a contemporary Christian music star did not pan out quite as well as she would have hoped, Katy Perry emerged with a pop makeover, singing about kissing a girl and liking it, and courting controversy that only helped to fuel her popularity. She didn’t come with the most remarkable voice and she was hardly bringing anything new to the table, but turns out that wrapping controversial content in a catchy hook is as surefire a recipe for stardom as can be. Consequently, her subsequent releases broke a multitude of records, making her one of the most successful pop singers in the mainstream arena. It obviously helped that she seemed likable and came off as charming and interesting during her media appearances, but unfortunately that charm didn’t always make its way onto her records, and her new album Prism is no different.

Her third pop record, fourth studio release overall, Prism follows 2010′s curiously successful, chart-topping, record-breaking Teenage Dream, and comes after her highly publicized marriage to and subsequent divorce from British comedian Russell Brand. If you think that suggests the singer would have come up with a set of songs doused in dark and scathing tones, then think again, because that’s not the case here. Perry does seem to be attempting a slightly more mature sound and has toned down some of her flashiness, but the result is still not particularly different from her previous efforts.

As always, a host of eminent producers – most prominently Dr. Luke and Max Martin, who have worked on a number of these songs with the singer who has writing credits on every track in the album – have been enlisted to construct the 13 songs on this record and polish it off with a radio friendly sheen.

There are a handful of more upbeat songs on Prism: the disco-tinged ‘Walking On Air’ sounds like it was plucked from the ’90s, the innuendo laden ‘Birthday’ proves that Perry is still not a big fan of subtlety, and the catchy ‘This Is How We Do’ (which is already being touted as the song of the summer for 2014) sees her return to the ‘Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)’ territory. But for at least some parts of the record (and as the furor over lead single ‘Roar’ sounding like Sara Bareilles’ ‘Brave’ illustrates), the playfulness has been held back for more contemplative or inspirational songs, although most of them often come off as the singer hurling empowerment clich├ęs at the listeners. ‘Roar’, for instance, purports to be a determined ode to survival, but its lyrics never rise above generic platitudes. And the treatment that has been applied to the record suggests that even the production team didn’t have much faith in her vocal abilities, which is why the more banal material, especially towards the end, leaves you wondering if someone with more vocal prowess could have breathed some life into those ditties.

Overall, Prism is Katy Perry’s measured attempt to be taken more seriously as an artist without straying too far from the sound that has made her popular. Fans will find comfort in the fact that she is still trying to be relatable and uplifting, and are likely to find inspiration in songs like the self-love anthem ‘Love Me’. It isn’t very exciting, inventive, or even particularly compelling for the most part, and if you aren’t a Katy Perry fan, then chances are that the album will fail to make much of an impression. But if her charm has worked on you so far, then you will probably find something to like about this set of songs.

- Sameen Amer 

Instep, The News on Sunday - 8th December, 2013 *

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