It might be almost as much as a surprise to you as it is to me to see that I’ve rated a Katy Perry album with four stars. I have never held back on my dislike of her or her music, and honestly, I never would’ve listened to Prism had it not been for the fact that I work in retail and the album has inexplicably been on repeat since the day it was released.
During my days at work, something weird happened to me. It began with me simply not complaining about the music, then it turned into me tapping my feet; next thing I knew, I was singing along and then going home and downloading Perry’s fourth studio album. So who knows, maybe I like Prism as a result of brainwashing (or witchcraft!), but the result is still the same: I enjoy this album.
The disc begins with lead single, “Roar.” The jaunty melody and sing-a-long chorus (“I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire/’Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar/Louder, louder than a lion/’Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar”) sound like something you’d hear at a high school pep rally, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The song’s catchiness made it an inescapable earworm last year, and also garnered Perry her 8th number one single.
Middle Eastern-inspired “Legendary Lovers” (even resplendent with sitars) appears next. Again, the magic is all in the memorable chorus (“Take me down to the river/Underneath the blood-orange sun/Say my name like a scripture/Keep my heart beating like a drum/Legendary lovers, we could be legendary”), but the exotic sound isn’t half bad, either. Producers Dr. Luke , Max Martin and Cirkut are responsible for the song’s polished sound (as well as the production on the majority of the album).
Perry revisits the 80’s with two back-to-back songs, “Birthday” and “Walking On Air.” The first of the two is allegedly Perry’s attempt at a Mariah Carey tribute (circa Carey’s debut album), but it really sounds like a Cyndi Lauper B-side, with its poppy refrain and airy vocals. It’s the kind of throw away song that’s really only good while listening, but instantly forgotten about as soon as it’s over. Walking On Airis actually the worse of the two, mainly because of the cheesy vocalist in the beginning and during the chorus that sounds like Martha Wash from The Weather Girls (the vocalist is actually someone named Sabine Ddumbe). That aside, the song is okay, if not also a bit forgettable. The 80’s/house sound is a bit played at this point, but the track is still fairly listenable.
My favourite song on the album is Perry’s current single, “Dark Horse.” Though I’m not a fan of Juicy J’s dispensable rap (with lines like, “She’s sweet as pie but if you break her heart, she’ll turn cold as a freezer” it’s hard to believe we really needed his input), I am a fan of the thudding bass line and the Southern rap sound. Perry pulls off the “thug” act well, and I can forgive her horrendous Grammy performance when the music is this good.
“International Smile” is another tribute to the 80’s, but I enjoy the song a bit more. There’s something just so happy about the song, and the chorus (“That girl’s a trip/A one way ticket/Takes you miles high, so high/’cause she’s got that one international smile”), paired with Perry’s vocals (which sound really nice, at least on this song) always put me in a good mood. “This Is How We Do” plays as an anthem to Perry’s fabulous life, as she sings about all the lavish things she and her friends do (“Santa Barbara, chic at La Super Rica, grabbing tacos, checking out hotties/Now we talking astrology, getting our nails did, all Japanese-y”). The lyrics are cheesy, and so is the over-the-top pop sound (really, Max Martin’s production hasn’t evolved much from his Britney Spears days), so the track is usually a skip for me.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a pop music album without a handful of ballads. “Unconditionally” was the second single, and is the album’s big power ballad. The lyrics were apparently inspired by Perry’s current boyfriend, John Mayer (and no, I’m still not a fan of them together, but since neither of them have asked my opinion on it, I guess that’s irrelevant…) so there’s plenty of stereotypical lines about the power of love, etc. (“I will love you unconditionally/There is no fear now/Let go and just be free/I will love you unconditionally”). Perry isn’t the strongest singer and her ballads have always done nothing more but highlight her weak singing ability, and this track is no exception. There’s a few held notes that she seems to warble on, and the ballad is just too big for her voice.
I definitely enjoy “Ghost” more, both from a lyrical and musical standpoint. Lyrically, the song is another autobiographical number, this time about Perry’s breakup with ex-husband, Russell Brand. There’s a real honesty to the lyrics, which I appreciate (“You sent a text/It’s like the wind changed your mind/We were best friends/Yeah, we were building our life/With every kiss, and every letter/Every promise of forever, oh/But you hit ‘Send’/And disappeared in front of my eyes”), and Perry’s songwriting actually seems to be best when she drops the clichés and writes from the heart. Musically, the song isn’t too much of a showcase for her vocals, which is great for Perry; she gets by on a few gentle notes during the choruses and bridges. Mid-tempo ballad, “Love Me”, has the most interesting lyrics on the album, as Perry sings about self-esteem and retaining her self-worth in a relationship (“I lost myself in fear of losing you/I wish I didn’t do/But I did/I lost my own, my own identity/Forgot that you picked me for me/But now, I don’t negotiate with insecurities/They always seem to get the best of me/I found I had to love myself, the way I wanted you to love me”). It’s a message rarely heard in songs, and one I can personally relate to, which makes me enjoy the track even more.
The album comes to a close with another strong number, “By The Grace Of God.” The track is another autobiographical one, this time about how Perry recovered from her divorce (“Thought I wasn’t enough/Found I wasn’t so tough/Layin’ on the bathroom floor/We were living on a fault line/And I felt the fault was all mine/Couldn’t take it anymore/By the grace of God (there was no other way)/I picked myself back up (I knew I had to stay)”). Though the melody is a bit forgettable, the lyrics are nicely written and you can tell Perry sings the song from a truly emotional place.
Though this comes as a surprise to me, I genuinely like Prism. I don’t think I’m going to go back and rethink my dislike of Katy Perry’s other albums, and I really don’t think me enjoying this one album will make me a fan, but hey- Prism is a good album and I enjoy listening to it. Perry found a good combination of producers and songwriters to work with her, and the result is a solid album of catchy pop songs and heartfelt ballads, both of which I equally like listening to. I won’t take back the things I said about her before, but I’ll swallow my pride just once and say Katy Perry’s music isn’t half bad.
2. Legendary Lovers
4. Walking on Air
6. Dark Horse
7. This Is How We Do
8. International Smile
10. Love Me
11. This Moment
12. Double Rainbow
13. By the Grace of God