Somewhere over the (double) rainbow, way up high, there’s a leak that you’ve heard of once in a tweet gone by. That would happen to be the case with Katy Perry‘s third studio album, PRISM, which leaked onto the internet yesterday after an overseas release. You knew it was coming at some point. Her latest effort is a mix of bright 80’s influenced pop, dark club records and a over-reliance on emotional ballads. It covers the full spectrum of a prism itself, but with any mirrored image, the results may be somewhat distorted dependent on which angle you see it from.
Let’s start off with some colorful commentary about how well the album begins. Opener “Roar”, the first single, serves its purpose of being an anthemic song with an inspiring message about staying strong despite past difficulties and making your voice known to the world. Musically, it’s nothing new, but as a single, it appeals to a wide audience and has easily captured the attention of both the U.S. and the world. Perry also takes some time to branch out on songs like “Legendary Lovers”, in which she goes Bollywood. The Indian musical influences work nicely against a sometimes fast-paced delivery, reminiscent of Emblem3‘s minor hit of earlier this year, “Chloe (You’re The One I Want)”.
A step up from there are two consecutive songs that are dated in different eras. “Birthday”, the third track, combines the horns and groovy R&B rhythms of an early 80’s Earth, Wind and Fire or Evelyn “Champagne” King record with a bubbly vocal and lyric that loads on the cheese: “So, let me get you in your birthday suit/It’s time to bring out the big balloons.” Additionally, the digital single and track four, “Walking On Air”, is an inspired house record straight out of the gay clubs circa 1991. It’s a little bit CeCe Peniston, a pinch of Crystal Waters, and even some C+C Music Factory. Whoever you think it sounds like, get ready to vogue hardcore. Also worth noting is “International Smile”, which apparently goes “from L.A., Miami, to New York City” because apparently even domestic affairs are international now. It’s a fun little ditty with cheesy airplane PA system breaks that were probably better left to Scooch on 2007’s “Flying The Flag (For You)”. Whatever floats your boat… or flies your plane.
As much as we’d like the party to go on, that electric atmosphere is lost in an instant after “Smile” and never returns to the energy that the first half of the record carries. Instead, we’re left with a sequence of largely lifeless ballads and slower tracks that makes the end of the album rather empty. The production is still slick, and the vocals are generally passable, but something just feels like Perry and her team gave up on this and the drop-off is alarming. The best of the five tracks, and I say this very loosely, is the likable “This Moment”, where a catchy guitar line gives it a bit of a pulse, but whose “Yesterday is history/So, why don’t you be here with me now?” mentality leaves it nothing short of a reality television coronation song. Next.
Even some of the uptempos leave a lot to be desired. “This Is How We Do”, for example, is your basic throwaway club track with a record scratching effect straight out of Pac-Man; in other words, it’s “no big deal”, Perry’s own words. I do have to give the writers credit, however, for some pretty cool one liners like “Suckin’ real bad at Mariah karaoke.” Too bad a glowing review of this album is just a sweet, sweet fantasy, baby. In this same respect, I’m not the biggest fan of the urban feel of “Dark Horse”, but I won’t go off too much in that one. (Please go away, Juicy J.) I’ll just say that I would rather have seen something replaced with bonus track “Spiritual”, a passionate late 80’s experimental pop song that at least sparks a little bit of interest that was wiped off that face of hers.
With so much potential coming off the first eight songs or so, PRISM could have been a much bigger record overall, but struggles to keep your attention until the very end. The decision to release “Unconditionally” as the second single will ultimately be a costly one, but with “Roar” still tearing up the charts, it’s hard to imagine that the album won’t do well in the short term. It’s the long term that I’m worried about, which will ultimately bring up the “failure to live up to Teenage Dream” sentiment, but given the circumstances of that era, it may not be a fair comparison. Still, when we look back on the life and times of Katy Perry, PRISM will be yet another ray passing through of spectrum of her career — just one that’s not worth reflecting on.