“I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter / dancing through the fire / ‘cause I am a champion, and your’e going to hear me roar…” I suppose there comes a time for every childish pop star to grow up, right? Katy Perry eschews ‘going stupid’ on her fourth studio effort Prism, which is a shocking revelation for an artist who in the past has tended to ‘push the envelope’. That isn’t to say that Perry doesn’t have her share of fun here (she does), but if fans were looking for a Teenage Dream repeat, they just might be disappointed. Personally as a music listener who has always been ‘on the fence’ about Perry, there are aspects of Prism that give me more respect for her artistry. That said, there are also times I’d wish she’d throw out a line like “Ur so gay and you don’t even like boys…”.
“Roar” starts off Prism energetically and inspired. The lyrics uplift, something that “Ur So Gay” and “Teenage Dream” didn’t seek to do. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t given Perry’s first single the due praise that it deserves, but I repent to the upmost. The cut is solidly produced (Dr. Luke and Max Martin) and Perry sings it well ultimately. I mean, I feel like “I am a champion” after listening. Sophomore cut “Legendary Lovers” isn’t too bad, but anything that proceeded “Roar” would struggle to match or eclipse the album’s flagship. Still, the gargantuan chorus and Perry’s newfound maturity are welcome. Still, we wouldn’t mind for some ‘ear candy’ either. Standout “Birthday” could be characterized as a toned-down, more tasteful “Teenage Dream”. Don’t let Perry’s more thoughtful persona fool you though; she’s still got some naughtiness going on (“So let me get you in your birthday suit…” and “Pop your confetti, we can get it on”).
“Walking On Air” has a danceable, partying vibe about it. Here, Perry is “walking on air” because she’s so taken by her man: “You’re giving me sweet, sweet ecstasy…” or “You’re reading me like erotica / boy you make me feel exotic yeah…” Yeah, maybe it’s still risqué and not quite ‘PG’, but it’s certainly a departure from the overt “Peacock” right? She may exaggerate a bit with lines like “Heaven is jealous of our love / angels are crying from up above”, but she seems to be in a good spot. This ‘good spot’ continues on “Unconditionally” which is one-dimensional conceptually, but does convey genuine emotion. “All your insecurities / all the dirty laundry never made me blink one time” and “I’ll take your bad days with your good / walk through the storm I would” supplant “I kissed a girl and I liked it.” Guess that’s something we’ll just have to get used to Katy.
While Prism wasn’t really sagging, “Dark Horse” does arrive perfectly timed to give the effort a bit more excitability. Ubiquitous MC Juicy J ends up being a nice fit on this hip-hop oriented pop cut that sports arguable the sickest beat of the entire effort. The chorus definitely latches: “So you wanna play with magic? / boy, you should know what you’re falling for / baby, do you dare to do this? / cause I’m coming at you like a dark horse…” Second verse vocal harmonizations only make the deal sweeter and of course the cut wouldn’t be nearly as swag-a-licious without Juicy J lines like “Uh, she’s a beast / I call her Karma / she eat your heart out / like Jeffrey Dahmer…” “Dark Horse” ranks right up there with “Roar”. “This Is How We Do” isn’t a bad follow-up, though the Mariah Carey line is hella corny: “Day drinking at the Wildcats, sucking real bad at Mariah karaoke…” Well at least we know “how we do”… I guess.
“International Smile” may be one of the most enthusiastic minor-key centered cuts you’ve ever heard. Perry paints a picture of ‘this girl’s greatness (and rebelliousness) for sure, whether it’s “Fire was in her hair, she don’t care / Peach pink lips, yeah, everybody stares…” or “She’s got that je ne sais quoi, you know it / so trés chic, yeah she’s a classic / but she’s pole dancing, so fancy free…” The point? “That girl’s a trip…takes you miles high, so high, cause she’s got that one international smile…” OK. “Ghost” and “Love Me” don’t have the same ‘edge’ of “International Smile”, making them a bit of a bore. “Ghost” shines on iterations of the chorus as well as the bridge, but the verses sag a bit. On “Love Me”, it feels as if Katy Perry has gotten a bit too serious for her own good. Still, it has a few notable moments.
“This Moment” ordinarily might not have been a favorite, particularly for Katy Perry, but the cut injects some much need momentum after two relative humdrum showings with “Ghost” and “Love Me”. It doesn’t ascend to the high level established by “Roar”, “Birthday” or “Dark Horse”, but fares well overall. “Double Rainbow” takes a back step, but what Perry sings about isn’t unfathomable or far-fetched… just a bit blah. “By the Grace of God” is overall nicely thought out, but again, attaching the level of seriousness to Katy Perry certainly will take many of us some time. ‘Moving’ may be an overstatement, but there are definitely some nice pieces here.
Ultimately, Prism is a solid, enjoyable album. It is not flawless mind you, but in some respects, Katy Perry has stepped up her game. It is also quite impressive that that Perry desires to be ‘grown up’ if you will. My question might be is this effort ‘fun’ enough to maintain Perry’s elite commercial status at radio? “Roar” did, so time will tell.
Favorites: “Roar”; “Birthday”; “Dark Horse”; “This Moment”
Katy Perry | Prism | Capitol | US Release Date: October 22, 2013