On her third proper pop album, Katy Perry goes for a positive and upbeat vibe. This is surprising, given her high-profile breakup with comedian Russell Brand. While the topic is explored on the album, it ultimately ends up in a place of healing and looking forward to the future.
The album kicks off with perhaps one of the most played songs on radio lately, “Roar”. It’s a nice note to start the collection with. It’s also the “see how many famous song lyrics she can swipe in one chorus” song. Despite that, the song has grown on me, if anything because of the production and brooding bassline beneath the surface hints at something a bit more than what’s on the surface. Katy wisely chose Max Martin (of P!nk fame) and Dr. Luke to cowrite and produce much of the album. This definitely was a good move. Second we have “Legendary Lovers”, obviously an ode to her newfound love with singer John Mayer. It becomes apparent right away that Katy’s Christian upbringing still is a part of her life if even subconsciously when she writes “take me down to the river…say my name like a scripture” but then also singing about karma and her third eye. While most of her pop hits so far have had a lot of flash, one thing that brought me to start liking Katy Perry was hearing some of the album tracks where she showed off a little more of her writer side. She balances the two quite well on this album. The Indian-flavored production is also something new for her as well.
Next up we have some simple fun pop with “Birthday”. This one isn’t particularly deep but it’s good fun and sure to be a radio hit next spring when you can have the windows down again. “Walking On Air” follows as sort of an ode to 90s house and club music. Again, fun, dancey, bouncey “I’m in love” feel good music.
Next is one of the highlights, “Unconditionally”, a soaring over the top ballad about loving someone no matter what their flaws may be. Yes, the topic has been covered to death. What makes it work here is the conviction. While Katy doesn’t exactly have a big boomy voice that can belt like some of her peers, she uses what she has to great effect here and it works. Following this, the party starts. “Dark Horse” has a strange groove that is the baby of The Art of Noise’s “Moments In Love” and “The Harlem Shake” but without being corny. Instead it’s quite seductive, even with the rap by Juicy J., a first for her if you don’t count remixes.
About halfway through the album now comes *the jam*. “This Is How We Do” has a groove that makes me head bob instantly when I hear it. It’s a little slowed down and a lot more funky than the average song on the radio. If she puts this out at the right time, this will be one of the jams of the summer in 2014 for sure. It plays like a continuation of “Last Friday Night” from Teenage Dream, but with more groove. Plus she rhymes “Japanese-y” with “Mariah Carey-oke”. Extra points for that one and making me laugh. “International Smile” dances in next with a beat similar to “Last Friday Night” coincidentally, a dance song about a girl unafraid to be herself. Complete with an approximation of Daft Punk’s vocoder-guitar solo in “Aerodynamic”. Love it or hate it, it fits and it’s fun.
Then we get to the serious part. “Ghost” is about her breakup with Russell Brand. You know it’s a good story when it starts with “you sent a text”. I didn’t follow the breakup closely, but that’s a cold way to break up. And now in more poetic terms, he is dead to her and “just a ghost”. It’s also an affirmation of taking her power back from the situation and moving forward towards the light (hence the title Prism). And it’s just poppy enough to be a radio hit, which will be all over radio and in Brand’s ears no doubt. Whether or not that was the plan, it’s never good to piss off a pop star when they have the world’s ear. “Love Me” follows, where Katy moves on, finds herself and defines her rules for finding love again as she ponders moving forward and if she can let someone in again. And then at 2 and a half minutes her voice is slowed down and all of a sudden it’s almost a Rick Astley guest vocal. I wonder if she realized that. Did we all just get Rick-rolled?
Next up is another favorite of mine, “This Moment”, a dance track that is a bit similar in groove to “Shampain” by Marina and the Diamonds and Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own”, both songs I really love. The song is full of positivity about living for the moment and not dwelling on the past. Maybe a bit cliché topic, but still something many of us easily forget to do. The song does shine as one of this collection’s best. This is followed by her writing collaboration with Sia called “Double Rainbow”, a big love song about finding the perfect fit. The final track of the standard edition of the album is “By The Grace Of God”, which at a glance makes you wonder if she’s gone Christian Rock again. However Katy has evolved much as a person since her teen years as Katy Hudson, so the lyrics, which are deeply personal and among her best, are a nod to her spirituality. But she moreso addresses picking up the pieces after the pain and fallout of the breakup, and takes us through the period of finding one’s confidence again. This is a great and beautiful way to end the album. Unless, like me, you bought the deluxe edition, which includes three more songs. If you are someone who appreciates the art of album sequencing, do this. Stop the album, take a break, get something to drink and come back in ten minutes and pretend these are the extra b-sides.
By saying b-sides I’m not implying these bonus tracks are bad by any means. They just don’t fit the flow of the album as well. First we have “Spiritual”, which feels like it could have been produced by M83. This one was written with her new lover John Mayer and is about finding him and being with him, which is then a bit strange to think he helped her in writing a song about how much in love she is with him. While the song sounds great and is enjoyable, it never really takes off and stays a bit subdued. “It Takes Two” has more of a standard “what’s on the radio” rockish pop beat and is about seeing both sides to a breakup. This one was penned with Emeli Sandé. The song has a bounce similar to her song “Next To Me”, but Katy is not as convincing on this song as on “Ghost” and perhaps that’s why it’s a bonus song. It would have been much better if Emeli Sandé had actually performed vocals on the track with Katy. Last of the bonuses is “Choose Your Battles”, a darker song about tiptoeing through a troubled relationship. It has a big almost tribal drum beat and ends with the inevitable breakup face-off. Good song, but definitely breaks the uplifting vibe of the album she was going for. But then the deluxe edition ends with this on a darker note. hence my disclaimer.
I have to give Katy Perry credit. After feeling like Teenage Dream had a lot of glossy and shimmer covering up the qualities I like in her, I didn’t expect this album to be all that deep or impressive. But I was proven wrong. She obviously now know her strengths and weaknesses and is playing on her strengths and developing them. Her best moments on this album are where she’s real with us. That’s not easy when making pop music for the masses to dance to, advertise to and answer their smart phones to. I can actually appreciate this album as an album and not just some hits wrapped in filler. Well done.
Check out some videos and performances from the album!
“Walking On Air” (Live on Good Morning America):
“This Is How We Do” (Audio with Lyrics):