Like a carefully cut gem, Katy Perry’s new record gleams from start to finish.
Prism, arriving three years after the multi-platinum singles machine that was Teenage Dream, is being couched as Perry’s “deep” album, a collection of songs illustrating her growth and maturity as a pop star.
She certainly has a wealth of personal experiences to draw from — in the time between records, her marriage to Russell Brand ended and she’s embarked upon another high-profile romance with John Mayer.
Tabloid curiosity aside, there’s probably a powerful album to be made about the pressures of romance in the spotlight, and reconciling fanciful, fairy tale dreams with cold, hard realities.
Perry is certainly self-aware enough to make such a record feel like a logical next step after Teenage Dream’s sun-blasted confections, and her publicity machine is working overtime to convince you that, yes, Prism is in fact just such an effort.
Yet, such a sales pitch wilts in the face of Prism’s ludicrous lyrics — “I feel my lotus bloom/Come closer,” Perry purrs on Legendary Lovers; “So let me get you in your birthday suit/Time to bring out the big balloons,” she coos on Birthday — and Perry’s staunch refusal to do anything other than spew self-help mantras, eye-rolling come-ons and empty cliches in near-equal measure.
That the 28-year-old singer-songwriter has, over the last five years, abandoned the tart, humorous style of her breakout album One of the Boys isn’t surprising (whither Ur So Gay?), but it is disappointing.
There was a moment when Perry seemed as though she might be able to pull off a rarity in modern pop music, writing songs with edge without sacrificing stardom.
Alas, broad goofiness and saccharine sentiment sells better, and Perry hasn’t looked back since.
But like the pro she is, Perry has managed to mask the transition to thin writing with an excess of pop gloss. As blockbuster releases go, Prism is aggressively catchy and cagily assembled, buoyed by frequent collaborators Dr. Luke and Max Martin.
There’s quite literally something for everyone: Legendary Lovers flirts with India, Walking on Air evokes Snap!’s Rhythm Is a Dancer, Dark Horse provides a token nod to hip-hop, and lead single Roar injects steroids (and a bizarre detour into the jungle) into the Firework template.
Prism is being sold as illuminating, when instead, it’s merely blinding, pretending to pull listeners close even as it maintains a chilly distance.