Katy Perry – Prism (2013)

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A Katy Perry song is a lot like a fast food hamburger. Generally crafted by more people than necessary, it feels crafted a sort of bland perfect with just the right amount of pre-weighed toppings. It’s harmless and looks the part, but it’s altogether bland as an artistic experience. It’s also vastly more appetizing after a few drinks.

Perry’s latest offering is Prism, an album that purports to reveal the “honesty” and “maturity” of the singer-songwriter. The trouble is that its attempts at openness are caked in clichés and dull songcraft.

The mid-tempo club bangers find Perry at her best, while her ballads – and there are many ballads – should serve well as half-hearted soundtracks to video clips that showcase rejected American Idol contestants.

Coming from a personal tragedy like the dissolution of a marriage is never easy, but Perry’s insistence is largely on representing her history as corny theatrics or “go me!” empowerment. The exception is “By the Grace of God,” a late-album number that features a (mostly) simple arrangement that sums up her philosophy on the matter: “I wasn’t going to let love take me out.”

Working backward from the most honest moment on the record is a letdown.

Ballads like “Double Rainbow” and “This Moment” are as cheesy as their titles suggest, with lyrics filled with simplistic platitudes. The latter is suitable for competition shows with its “All we have is this moment/tomorrow’s unspoken” exhortation.

“Unconditionally” is unconditionally the record’s big power ballad. Woodblock percussion sets it apart from the herd somewhat, but its elevated chorus makes it another “Firework.” Everything is in place as it should be, but there’s no meat on its bones.

“Roar,” the first single from Prism, advocates change. “I guess that I forgot I had a choice,” Perry sings before declaring herself a hero with the “eye of the tiger.” She’s also a “champion,” radiating the sort of conceit that usually gets Kanye West in a lot of trouble.

Other more upbeat tunes include “Birthday,” a suggestive ode that is right in Perry’s wheelhouse. The lyrics are flagrantly spiked with allusion and the ’80s horn sploshes are in spotless neon. Her Mariah Carey impression falls short, but it’s all in good fun. “Let me get you in your birthday suit; it’s time to bring out the big balloons,” she sings.

There’s also “Walking on Air,” a bright return to CeCe Peniston party-fizz tinted by a neat whirl of backing vocals and a Euro-dance beat.

When Prism exists in the bubble-gum spaces, it is a passable album. But its recurrent trips to what it attempts to sell as candid material typically fall flat. If Perry can roar past the hokey truisms and into the realm of more genuine sonic and lyrical “stuff,” she could put together one hell of a modern pop record.

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Jordan Richardson

Jordan Richardson is a Canadian freelance writer and ne'er-do-well. He also contributes to his own Canadian Cinephile and Canadian Audiophile websites. Contact Something Else! Reviews at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
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