Music Reviews

Katy Perry Prism

(Capitol Records) Rating - 4/10

There is a certain quality about the current pop music scene (without getting into the whole ''in the good old days...''' conundrum) that allows it to be listenable and at the same time highly unlikable. It's rather like eating fast food while trying not to ponder the trajectory of the chicken from animal to nugget-- it's already known that there are unpalatable details to the story, not to mention the usual health concerns. Nothing matters anyway, as long as it tastes good and you come back for more. This seems to be the unspoken credo of most pop artists nowadays, yet no one epitomizes this quality more perfectly than Katy Perry does in her latest album Prism.  

It does no good to excuse mediocrity on the basis that ''it's just pop music'', but the truth is that as a musical endeavor, Prism is disappointing, frustrating and silly. That's not to say it won't top the charts, entertain radio listeners (there's Roar playing for the 150th time!), make middle-schoolers giggle or get a good party going. Perry has the formula down so confidently, she should probably have it copyrighted by now. In fact, by most definitions, Prism has already accomplished its main goal: to sell and to entertain. 

But it's vapid entertainment at best, and in this case, the music on Prism is as vapid as vapid can be. Perry's songs were generally always unabashed guilty pleasures, yet her unpretentious delivery and intentionally tacky charm helped her pull off material such as I Kissed A Girl and Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) in more ways than just commercial. But Prism's lyrics are borderline doggerel, the vocals nasal and cloying, the chords so recycled and the hooks so boring one has to wonder whether Dr. Luke and Max Martin were on autopilot the whole time. Even the cover art is significantly less interesting: Perry's soft and flowery styling is tame in comparison to the Katy of yonder years with her koolaid-blue wigs and her cupcake dresses. And although she's been plugging Prism as a ''darker'' album, there is no evidence anywhere to even entertain that notion, unless Perry thinks stuffing the track list with self-help ballads makes a record ''darker'''. All in all, it sounds desperate. From the cheesy 70's opening of Birthday to the gooey piano of By The Grace Of God, what is heard is a militant desire to sell, to pander to the tastes of the demographic most likely to buy her singles and least likely to care about clichéd songwriting. Since when were intelligence, originality and freshness incompatible with marketability? 

It is disappointing that for every musically interesting aspect in a track-- such as Perry's breezy, blasé delivery in This Is How We Do, that upgrades the lyrics from anthemic nonsense to almost charming ( ''This is no big deal!,'' she declares) --  there is a moment of triteness that brings the experience back down. Both Spiritual and Legendary Lovers boast uniquely ethereal, Eastern-tinged hooks that work spectacularly as melodic devices, but neither song has any payoff: they drift frustratingly from verse to chorus to verse, as if deviating from that structural template would be too much experimentation. Perhaps to offset this and inject some personality (which Perry has in bucket loads; even Dr Luke's and Max Martin's production can't mask that) into the record, we get a series of cute (because it's Katy) yet cringe-worthy spoken lines that help usher in that final chorus. But whether they're encouraging listeners to buy bottles with their rent money or asking them to please make sure their champagne glasses are empty before takeoff, it's a poor substitute for the pure magnetism of Perry's previous albums. Finally, some of it is just inexcusably silly. There really is no one who can successfully start off a song with ''You sent a text/ It's like the wind changed your mind," and Perry's little pronunciation shticks get tiring very quickly (see Unconditional and the way she drags out the fourth syllable of the word in the chorus (uncondi-SHUH-nal!).  

As far as pop music goes, Katy Perry is well-armed with an arsenal of catchy, frothy, radio-ready tunes. There is little in the way of actual technique or subtlety, and as an album, Prism falls short of its predecessors in the innovation and charisma department. But if there's any consolation, it's that from time to time Perry appears to be aware of her own irreverence. After all, it's just pop music. She says it herself: it's no big deal.