Katy Perry has had her critics from day one. Or should I say haters? I suppose they’ve been one in the same in many instances with all of the mud-slinging that’s been thrown in Katy’s direction. But it’s awfully easy to criticize pop stars. And, hey, I’ve done it myself. I’m never hateful about it though. And a lot of people seem to truly loathe Katy. Somehow she’s become the poster girl for everything that’s wrong with pop music today. Well, OK, I think Miley Cyrus has inherited that role now, but as my readers know, I honestly love half of Miley’s new album. But this is a review of Katy’s new album, so I digress. That said, my feelings about Katy’s Prism are similar to my feelings about Miley’s Bangerz, meaning that I think half of Prism is fantastic and half of it is, well, not quite so impressive.
The order in which the songs appear on Prism is certainly interesting. The first nine songs were written by Katy along with Dr. Luke and Max Martin with other writers contributing as well. Those tracks are all produced by Dr. Luke and Max Martin, though Cirkut and Åhlund also worked on some of the tracks. But then the next seven songs — I’m referring to the deluxe edition — were written and produced with various other contributors. Normally, albums are front-loaded these days, the songs thought to be the best by the record label usually appearing first. But I would have to argue that the final seven tracks on Prism are its strongest songs. Which isn’t to say that the first nine songs are all bad, as some of them are quite good, but those are clearly the songs one would call cheesy, the latter songs being those Lady Gaga would likely deem art pop.
The album begins with the rock-flavored “Roar,” which has become Katy’s biggest single to date in just about every way possible. For example, the song soared to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 before the video was even released. The high-energy, self-empowerment anthem also broke various iTunes records around the globe. Initially, I thought it was a rip-off of Sara Bareilles’ single “Brave,” but then it was pointed out that the song was recorded before Sara’s album was even released. Also, Bareilles herself stated that she thought the controversy between the two songs was unnecessary. So, I stopped fighting it and learned to love “Roar.” Do I think it’s Katy’s best single ever? Definitely not. But I do think it’s ultimately an irresistible song with a positive message that you have to applaud even if you think it’s the worst song since Miley’s “We Can’t Stop.” (For the record, I still think “Brave” is the better song.)
“Roar” is followed by “Legendary Lovers,” an addictive tune that is peppered with Bollywood-style guitars and even has a full-on bhangra break. And yet, to my ears, the chorus sounds like traditional Irish music, which I heard a lot of growing up. In any case, it certainly has a world music sound and is primed to be a global smash. It also has a spiritual vibe, something it has in common with several other tracks on the album, which will probably please the nine people who bought Katy’s Christian pop album released under the name Katy Hudson before she reinvented herself as Katy Perry.
In my opinion, the strongest of the songs produced by Dr. Luke and Max Martin is “Birthday,” a club-ready thumper with an oh-so-sweet chorus: “But when you’re with me / I’ll give you a taste / Make it like your birthday everyday,” she teases. I know you like it sweet / So you can have your cake / Give you something good to celebrate.” If nothing else, I guarantee you that it’s the only song released this year that will be played at both children’s birthday parties and strip joints. And it’s almost as wonderful as Selena Gomez’s amazing song of the same name.
The other Dr. Luke/Max Martin tracks are less impressive. “Walking On Air” does the ’90’s house thing well, and that seems to be what it’s striving for, but it actually sounds so ’90’s that it feels out-dated and tired. Meanwhile, “Dark Horse” starts off with an interesting trap-pop sound but the chorus, while sung beautifully, is painfully generic, as is Juicy J’s rap part, which includes the tasteless lyric, “she eat your heart out like Jeffrey Dahmer.” And “Unconditionally,” the album’s second official single, is a ballad with touching lyrics but tepid beats.
The first of the final seven tracks is “Love Me.” Like “Roar,” it’s a majestic self-empowerment anthem and I would have to say it’s this album’s “Firework.” “No more standing in my own way,” Katy sings with conviction. And that’s one thing that must be said about this album: it’s obvious that Katy truly believes the words she’s singing. She’s not an actress playing a part. She co-wrote these songs and clearly stands behind them.
Katy is especially emotive during “This Moment,” a gorgeous mid-tempo ballad exquisitely produced by Stargate and Benny Blanco. “All we have is this moment / To put our love into motion / Yesterday is history / So why don’t you be here with me?,” she sings, unleashing her inner romantic, as she does frequently during the final third of the album. In fact, the very next track, a blissful ballad written with Sia and Greg Kurstin called “Double Rainbow,” finds her heart beaming brightly. “They say one man’s trash is another girl’s treasure,” she sings. “So if it’s up to me, I’m gonna keep you forever.” There’s a precious vulnerability projected in her voice here; she’s not merely beaming, she’s laying her heart bare.
The most affecting song on the album is easily “By The Grace of God,” which Katy wrote and produced with Greg Wells. It’s a deeply personal song during which she recounts everything she went through with her failed marriage to Russell Brand. “We were living on a fault line / And I felt the fault was all mine,” she sings and it’s easy to imagine tears swelling up in her eyes as she was recording this one.
Another noteworthy track is “Spiritual,” which Katy wrote with her boyfriend John Mayer and Greg Kurstin, the latter of which produced the track. It has a very new age air about it, but Katy totally sells it. “This is spiritual, under your spell,” she sings. “Phenomenon, the way you make me feel” If it didn’t get a bit punchy during the chorus, it would be a surefire hit in yoga studios. Perfect for chilling out at home after a night out at the club though. And that’s kind of another way the album is divided: the first nine songs largely consist of up-tempo, party-ready tunes, while the latter tracks would be more appreciated while coming down after. Put another way, first she gets you dancing, then she tells you stories. And those stories alone are worth the price of the album.