Katy Perry’s Prism is just another top-40 album

Does anyone really care about top 40 albums? This is not a dig at Katy Perry, whom I’ll readily admit to turning up plenty of her singles whenever they play on the radio their required 20 times a day minimum.

But I honestly can’t remember knowing anyone, even Katy Perry fans, ever being excited about the prospect of an entire Katy Perry ALBUM. It just feels odd to say out loud, doesn’t it? Try me. Name five songs that were on “Teenage Dream” that you liked but didn’t hear on the radio first.

The fact is that Katy Perry is not so much a songwriter as she is a centerpiece/performer. And “Prism,” for all her assertions that this album has a “new tone” or “a darker feel” or whatever else her label told her to say to justify them slapping an $11 price tag on all those freshly printed CDs, is just another remix of the same kind of Katy Perry product you’ve come to expect by now: Katy Perry’s oh-so-bubbly voiceover sugary hooks, catchy verses, and wildly age-inappropriate innuendo.

That’s not to say it’s a bad album by any means. It’s just that after beginning with an admittedly exciting four-song stretch (starting with the irresistibly catchy “Roar”), the album makes a sudden decline in quality, making it painfully obvious that it just got through all its pre-packaged radio singles.

“Roar” proves that Katy and her team (everyone’s favorite producer Dr. Luke, Swedish Backstreet Boy inventor Max Martin and easily over a dozen different songwriters) know a good chorus when they hear one, and establishes the tone of the album: big, loud, boomy and anthemic.

Album Art
Album Art

And when Katy, Inc. sticks to this formula, pure ear-candy magic is the result. “Birthday” channels those sweet, sweet throwback disco vibes of Bruno Mars (when he in turn was channeling Michael Jackson), while “Walking On Air” sounds like a holdout from a Cher- inspired workout album. “Legendary Lovers” even weaves in an energetic, Bollywood-inspired dance beat to liven things up. But regardless of the influences or instruments involved, they’re somehow all blended together to make slightly different variations of the same frothy, top 40 milkshake.

For all the faint passes Katy Perry’s actual contributions to the songwriting (or lack thereof), it’d be unfair to say she isn’t pretty much THE reason the singles even work as well as they do in the first place. Her infectious energy is present on every track, even over the decidedly forgettable ones. And when it’s paired up with her trademark throaty vocals, even the clunkiest of lyrics and juvenile of club anthems (Ms. Perry’s decision to showcase her best impression of an obnoxious ‘90s club DJ on “This Is How We Do” comes to mind), are saved.

She manages to switch it up from the epic love-lorne croons on the oddly bouncy ballad “Ghost” to the scandalous low whispers of the club jam “Dark Horse,” and hits everything else in between. In fact, without Katy Perry behind the wheel, none of these songs would be even close to hits.

But as it stands, the magic synergy of Katy and her Katy Perry machine manages to only be good enough to churn out a few great but predictable toe-tappers, leaving a ton of artificial sweetener on the cutting room floor to pad out the rest. “Prism” isn’t going to change any of your expectations of Katy Perry anytime soon. It really is the musical equivalent of consuming empty calories, with a couple of stand-out side dishes thrown in. But it never leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Grade: C+
Verdict: The musical equivalent of consuming empty calories, with a couple of stand-out side dishes thrown in.