Prism

Katy Perry

Capitol, 2013

http://www.katyperry.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/19/2015

In 2010 and 2011, Katy Perry was all over the radio. Every pop and “adult rock” station, every mall and many of the stores in that mall were constantly playing the hits from Teenage Dream, and with a total of five No. 1 hits off the disc she was in company only occupied by superstars like Michael Jackson. Even a repackaging of Teenage Dream called The Complete Confection sold well, with a new song off that one turning into a hit as well.

Problem was, this was in service of true bubblegum pop, candy-coated radio-ready cartoonish hits without much substance, perhaps better than the debut, but not by much. The all-night Playboy party of “Teenage Dream,” “California Gurls” and “TGIF” was a blast, sure, but it had to end sometime. Perry had to grow up, and she does on Prism.

Age, maturity, her divorce and a growing sense of songwriting are all factors here, as well as a sense of wanting to be a long-lasting artist, not a sensation tasked by the public to recreate the same hits year after year and having to resort to theatrics to stay relevant. And so Perry delivers a set of midtempo, deliberate songs, missing the giddy colorful rush of, say, “Hot And Cold” but offering instead a sense of gravity and empowerment. “Roar,” the opening single, was of course an enormous hit, an anthem that played well in stadiums, cars and Old Navy, and it remains a fine song, if a bit lacking in emotion.

The disco flavor and Jackson-isms of “Birthday” are an early highlight and a holdover in spirit from my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Teenage Dream (“Let me get you in your birthday suit,” she purrs), while “This is How We Do” is a sequel to “TGIF,” detailing a girls’ night out with nails, karaoke and waking up the next morning in last night’s dress. Sometimes you never learn, I guess, but these songs are the exception, the ones that will get radio play while Perry explores the other facets of her personality and musical approach.

Here, she and her producers/songwriters go for slower, more introspective and darker pieces, with mixed results. The better songs are the album cuts; despite their hit status, “Unconditionally” tries to be heart-thumpingly romantic but falls short of its intended emotional mark and “Dark Horse” (with Juicy J) is irritating as hell, its screechy keyboards and jerky rhythms (especially after the chorus) ruining whatever layered vocal work Perry brings to the song.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s kind of like how Madonna shifted from her bubbly Material Girl image to her “Papa Don’t Preach”/ “Like A Prayer” era, broadening her sound and lyrical scope while still writing catchy pop songs. “Walking On Air” and “Legendary Lovers” capture this new approach, and it’s welcome for those turned off by the sexual come-ons all over Teenage Dream. Some critics have panned this, but they are wrong; Perry is growing up, putting a short marriage behind her and moving on as an artist, as she should be. Where she succeeds is exploring these tough topics – that marriage and her emotional baggage and recovery from it informs many of the lyrics, as on “Ghost” – and setting it to catchy music that will please her true fans.

Obviously, there will be growing pains here; it’s not like Perry has recorded her Ray Of Light or anything, and several songs on the second half of the disc tend toward the mundane (“International Smile,” “Love Me,” “This Moment,”) but they are still better than most of those first two albums. “By The Grace Of God” closes the disc with an air of finality, finding Perry on the bathroom floor, picking herself up, looking in the mirror and moving on. It’s the most emotionally fragile and vulnerable we’ve seen this lady.

Prism was the record Perry needed to make for both herself and her career. About half of it is quite good from a musical standpoint, which is expected in an evolution, but in its lyrics and spirit Perry – and her fans who will relate to this album – fully encompasses her party side, her friend side, her romantic side and her spiritual side. It’s the most complete, coherent and mature record of Perry’s career, and as her contemporaries (Miley, Taylor Swift, Sia, Lady Gaga) flail about changing their sound and/or being outlandish, Perry has risen above as a true pop artist. No wonder she gets to play the Super Bowl in three weeks.

Rating: B-

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