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Thoughts on Katy Perry and “Prism”

October 21, 2013

By John Corrado

Prism CD CoverAfter blowing up the charts with her excellent first albums One of the Boys and the Grammy-nominated Teenage Dream, and becoming the subject of the surprisingly honest documentary Part of Me, Katy Perry is releasing her third studio album tomorrow, titled Prism.

Although on the whole not quite as strong as her previous albums, Prism shines brightest when mixing the upbeat pop anthems that have made the singer a genuine star over the past five years, with spirituality and emotional vulnerability.

The album opens on a solid note with the hugely successful first single “Roar,” an incredibly affective mix of great vocals, a strong beat and empowering lyrics.  Next up is the Eastern-influenced “Legendary Lovers,” which is sonically different than pretty much anything else Katy Perry has ever done.  With a hypnotic melody and entrancing lyrics, this is a memorable track that introduces the spiritual overtones that are present throughout portions of the album.  The third track “Birthday” is an irresistibly upbeat party song with a great club beat and appealingly sexy lyrics.

By this point on the album, we have already heard three different styles that somehow play well together, and these three songs are all standouts.  The fourth track “Walking on Air” is somewhat effective as a lightweight throwback to the European dance pop of the early 1990s, but feels oddly like a filler compared to some of the other songs.  The sixth track “Dark Horse” is probably my least favourite, featuring a rap by Juicy J that includes the unfortunate and sorely misjudged lyric “she eat your heart out, like Jeffrey Dahmer.”  This dated reference to the infamous serial killer is off-putting and feels retroactive compared to the messages of the album.

But buried between these two tracks is “Unconditionally,” which Katy Perry has already declared her personal favourite on the album and is easily one of several standouts.  Movingly inspired by her ongoing relationship with John Mayer and a recent trip to Africa, this is a beautifully written love song that works on every level, from the excellent vocals to the powerful lyrics.  This leads into the seventh track “This is How We Do,” a likeable piece of lightweight bubblegum pop that plays almost like a companion piece to “California Gurls,” with an upbeat dedication to all the “ladies at breakfast, in last night’s dress.”

The eighth track “International Smile” has an admittedly catchy chorus, but the beat feels recycled and the metaphors predictable, as the song starts to sound like another filler.  The ninth track “Ghost” is an honest and powerfully performed break up ballad that suggests Russell Brand ended their relationship through a text message.  This heartbreaker is directly complimented by the equally strong “Love Me,” as the singer openly confronts her own insecurities and starts to appreciate herself again.  This leads right into the eleventh track “This Moment,” an excellent piece of pop music that provides an inspirational celebration of right now, and could easily become a staple of teenage playlists.

The twelfth track “Double Rainbow” works because of the sweet lyrics and genuine delivery, despite the obvious pop culture reference of the title.  This brings us to the remarkable thirteenth track “By the Grace of God,” which is a crowning achievement of the album.  Capturing Katy Perry at a vulnerable time after her divorce from Russell Brand, the poignant lyrics find the often upbeat singer suicidal on the bathroom floor, before being saved by a higher power.  When she sings “I looked in the mirror and decided to stay,” it becomes the most life affirming moment on the album, because of how true it feels.

The deluxe edition features three bonus tracks, the futuristically new age “Spiritual,” the worthwhile “It Takes Two” and the edgy “Choose Your Battles,” bringing the total song count up to sixteen.  I’m a fan of Katy Perry and I like a lot of what the pop singer brings to the table with Prism, despite the fact that she doesn’t land every single track.  This is one of the main things that sets this record apart from her first two albums, which played solidly from beginning to end.  I think a lot of fans and critics are going to feel the same way, but which tracks are considered standouts will likely vary depending on the listener.

Although there are admittedly a few missteps along the way, Prism has more than enough worthwhile tracks to recommend the set as a whole.  This is an album that balances the party girl image of Katy Perry with the vulnerable emotions of her human side, and the best moments come when the singer is broken, finding ways to piece herself back together again.

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