Review: Prism, Katy Perry #MusicMonday

Monday, October 28, 2013

Katy Perry Prism
source: Katy Perry's Facebook page
The latest Katy Perry album, "Prism," is one odd body of work. Where "Teenage Dream" was incredibly '80s leaning, "Prism" is an early '90s baby. If I had to sum “Prism” up by way of comparison, I'd throw these words at you: 'early 90s dance music, Amy Grant, Wilson Phillips, Alanis Morissette, Sarah MacLachlan. Which is interesting, if one wanted to guess where Katy Perry's musical ride might take us.

The most glaring oddity of "Prism" is its tracklist. Not that there is anything wrong with it from an aesthetic standpoint. But upon listening to the album, there is a very, very distinct break in the album — a snap, if you will, wherein Katy Perry transforms from a catchy dance club singer to a borderline Christian artist. (Which, arguably, could be anyone navigating the waters of life.) There is no easy transition between the two genres as it is, but Katy doesn't try to diffuse the disparity. One can only assume that this harsh divergence is intentional -- there's no way a pop artist would spend 3 years working on a follow-up to her ginormous hit of an album "Teenage Dream" and not painstakingly craft her next one.

"Roar," the album's leading single, seems like a remnant of "Teenage Dream." Its sound runs parallel to that of "California Gurls" and its sisters, and acts as a misleading bridge to what I am calling "Katy's new sound." Virtually zero of the songs on "Prism" sound anything like "Roar" or anything on "Teenage Dream" (though I guess you could say "Legendary Lovers" has a similar riff as "E.T."). So if you fell in love with Katy over her infectious and easy, sugar-sweet tunes, you might not like "Prism" very much. Where "Prism"'s songs are catchy, they are also incredibly beat-driven, to the point of almost drowning out her vocals. They are hard and dark ('70s and '90s disco and dance influences are evident, as opposed to the '80s-leaning "Teenage Dream"), and shed many of the insecurities that so endeared us to Katy Perry the last time around.

Katy's voice is not so strong that it can overcome the strong beats featured on “Prism”; her strength as a singer comes in the textures and thickness of her voice, which is best highlighted in midtempos and ballads with interesting yet subdued backing tracks (bonus tracks "Choose Your Battles" and "Spiritual"). Beginning with “Love Me,” the tracklist flicks suddenly from Club to Easy Listening Pop/Rock navel gazing, allowing her expressive voice do what it does best.

Honestly, I can't tell what Katy's new sound is, because to do so, I’d have to dismiss the first half of “Prism.” But if I had to label the sound that Katy leaves us with, I'd call it Sarah MacLachlan-meets-Alanis Morissette. Katy Perry turned 29 this past Friday, and I'm hoping that this album is a reflection of the transition she's undergoing in her late twenties. But more interesting to me than the lack of cohesion of "Prism" is its implications. Where will Katy Perry head from here?



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