Katy Perry stays within pop comfort zone on ‘Prism’

October 22, 2013

via wikipedia.org

Despite what the snobbish may say, pop music of today is no worse than of years past. Listeners in the ’60s were blessed with the Temptations and Dusty Springfield, but they also endured Freddie and the Dreamers and Petula Clark. The radio has long been inundated with cheesy pop, but it is not necessarily true that contemporary pop is abysmal.

This is not an apology for bad pop so much as it is a caution against blind criticism of pop giants like Katy Perry. Her new album, “Prism,” won’t convert those not already among her legions of fans, primarily because it is exactly what it strives to be — a conventional pop record. Accordingly, it is overwrought, juvenile and unabashedly hedonistic.

Pop stars are not — and should not — be appreciated for their maturity, but the immaturity displayed by Perry throughout “Prism” is more distracting than it needs to be. No one would mistake this for an introspective record, and Perry is intent on asserting that it isn’t. Her celebration of partying is occasionally complemented by tender songs, such as “By the Grace of God” and “Double Rainbow,” but these slow moments are few and far between.

It can be exhilarating to listen to Perry soar from the lowest end of her vocal register to the highest, as she does on “Roar” and “Unconditionally,” but her talents are not enough to compensate for uninspired songwriting. For all her bleating on “International Smile,” listeners inevitably become tripped up in the web of cliches — egregious even by pop standards — “She’s got that, je ne sais quoi, you know it/So tres chic, yeah, she’s a classic/But she’s footloose and so fancy free/Yeah, she dances to her own beat.”

Still, several of the songs on “Prism” are so engaging as stand-alone tracks one can’t help but acknowledge Perry’s talent. The aforementioned “Roar” has already become Perry’s eighth number-one single, and it seems probable that “Unconditionally” will become her ninth. Both are infectious anthems of self-empowerment that demand to be played at the highest volume.

Marred as it is by Perry’s rapping, “This Is How We Do” is as entertainingly decadent as “Last Friday Night” and shows a rare glimmer of wit. “This Is How We Do” works well as a sharp parody of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It.”

Like her earlier records, “Prism” demonstrates that Perry’s talents are better suited to the single rather than the record. It isn’t necessarily problematic to sing about the joys of partying from early evening into late morning, as she does throughout “Prism.” But listening to someone sing about the same thing for the majority of a 50-minute album is exhausting — especially since, compared to the abundant party jams, the slower songs on the album are rarely highlights. How seriously can you take a song that compares a love interest to a double rainbow?

Perry may well be the contemporary counterpart to Petula Clark. Similar to Clark, Perry is a popular musician who offers very little of substance to the listener — just infectious pop for the sake of fun. Nevertheless, Perry demonstrates enough talent to sell a three-minute single, and that alone should ensure the commercial success of “Prism.”

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 22 print edition. Chris Feldsine is a contributing writer. Email him at music@nyunews.com.

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