Katy Perry’s fourth studio album, “Prism,” finds her recovering from her divorce from Russell Brand and headed straight into love again... this time with John Mayer and, hopefully, with better results.
“Prism,” out Tuesday (22), is filled with lessons learned and self affirmations, and part of the fun is voyeuristically listening to tracks and knowing they’re about Brand or Mayer. The pop priestess lays herself bare on a number of these tunes including the confessional “By the Grace of God” and jubilantly romantic “Double Rainbow.”
Working with a range of producers from Dr. Luke to Stargate, Cirkut, Benny Blanco and Klas Ahlund, Perry pushes herself melodically here, with many of the songs seemingly influenced by the ‘80s and ‘90s. Tempos shift, synths weave in and out, and her voice rides the musical tide, often soaring on “Unconditionally” and “Double Rainbow.”
Just an any Perry album is a bit of a deep dive into her diary (she just doesn’t catch as much flack for it as Taylor Swift does... ), her sets are also a chance to cut loose, forget your cares and hit the dance floor. All your boogie needs are met as well with the playful “Walking on Air” and “International Smile.”
At this point into her career, Perry should be stretching herself a little more than she does, especially lyrically. Some of her phrases are often sound like a school girl’s, but it’s a small quibble when she admirably remains willing to reveal her soul.
Here's our track-by-track review of "Prism."
Roar: Perry asserts that she is back and she is better than ever on this feisty first single from “Prism.” The steady stomp keeps the former No. 1 track grounded, while much of the rest of hand clap and mid-tempo piano production sound straight out of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. In fact, if you’re old enough it may remind you a little bit of the chorus of Martika’s “Toy Soldiers” crossed with M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” with some Avril Lavigne thrown in for good measure. GRADE: B+
“Legendary Lovers”: Set against a middle-eastern beat, Perry’s words rush out in a torrent as she declares her intent to be part of a pair of lovers who are legendary in their ardor. The song shifts tempos and styles throughout. More intriguing than catchy. “Legendary Lovers” is “Prism’s” “E.T.” GRADE: B-
“Birthday”: Perry gets her Prince on in this delectable pop confection. Bouncy and fun as it gets, with a winking, sexy nod to bringing out the “birthday balloons.” GRADE: B+
“Walking On Air”: Perry enlisted the air of Swedish producer, Klas Ahlund, best known for his work with former Perry tour mate, Robyn, for this ‘90s-inspired fluffy house twirler. The juxtaposition of Perry’s airy vocals with her big-voiced, Martha Wash-like collaborator are heavenly. GRADE: A
“Unconditionally”: A big mid-tempo power ballad, propelled by Dr. Luke and Cirkut’s wide-open synth and percussion production. The title is a bit of a mouthful for Perry to get around over and over, but the theme of unconditional love resonates in part because of her convincing delivery. Is this song, the second single from the set, about John Mayer? We say yes. GRADE: B
“Dark Horse” featuring Juicy J: It’s not as out there (literally and figuratively) as “E.T.,” but it’s definitely not Perry’s standard pop, though with its finger snaps and pulsating, hypnotic beat, it will certainly fit in at radio. Juicy J’s rap —outside of regrettable line “She cuts your heart out like Jeffrey Dahmer”—fits in smoothly, though makes the cut sound a little dated. GRADE: B
“This Is How We Do”: It’s hard not to raise your arm in the air and wave it back and forth in this old-school sounding track about partying. Perry name drops Mariah Carey and Backstreet Boys in a song that would border on Ke$ha-like novelty if it weren’t for the more infectious beat. Unlike anything else Perry has recorded before. Could be a sleeper hit. Klas Ahlund is also behind this partially spoken track. GRADE: C
“International Smile”: A musical cousin to “California Gurls,” this ode to a girl who is making the most of the mile high club as she traverses the globe is a bit of a jumbled mess, though it will make a cute video, and the upbeat track could make a strong live set piece. GRADE: C
“Ghost”: “You sent a text, it’s like the wind changed your mind,” Perry sings in the opening line of this touching mid-tempo tune about her split with Russell Brand. “My vision’s 20/20/I see through you now,” she sings without a trace of vitriol, except when she delivers the line, “So rest in peace/I’ll see you on the other side.” Last album’s “E.T.” is this album’s “Ghost.” GRADE: B+
“Love Me”: Hushed synth droplets open the track as Perry sings about getting lost in someone else (possibly about Brand but more likely about Mayer from the first go-round) before turning the song into a self-love anthem (no, not that kind silly!) about how “I have to love myself the way I want you to love me.” A vulnerable, stripped-down song, despite a few awkward turns of phrase. Nice production by Swedish producer/songwriter Bloodshy. GRADE: B
“The Moment”: A treacly mid-tempo tune about how all we have is this moment, “so why don’t you be here with me.” The melody doesn’t really suit Perry’s range and the lyrics are straight out of a bad Hallmark card. However, if you are a high school girl looking for a prom theme song, here you go. GRADE: C-
“Double Rainbow”: She’s learning to love again in this sweet love letter to John Mayer, produced by Greg Kurstin and co-written by Sia. “When I found you, it was all pitter-patter,” she sings. Great raw, emotional vocal delivery by Perry here. Big drums come in giving it an ‘80s feel. Unabashedly uncynical. GRADE: B
“By The Grace of God”: Gut-level honest ballad about her divorce and how she felt it was all her fault until she realized in some ways, it had nothing to do with her, and that she made the decision to go on: “I put one foot in front of the other and looked in the mirror and decided to stay. I wasn’t going to let love take me out that way.” On the piano/synth track with ‘90s production, she thanks those who helped her through, like her sister. This is autobiographical as it gets. More appealing for her honesty than for the melody. GRADE: B