Katy Perry's three year break from releasing an album makes sense considering the hype built up around 2010's Teenage Dream. The record-breaking effort yielded five number one singles, including "Firework," "Teenage Dream," "California Gurls," "E.T." and "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.). And so, the carefully considered amount of time that went into the creation of her fourth album, Prism, makes sense when taking into account the stakes involved. It's just a shame that said careful consideration didn't yield better results.
The first single, "Roar," is a decided triumph--and the perfect choice for Perry to make her reentry onto the music charts. A powerful, self-esteem boosting anthem, "Roar" is sure to rest firmly among Perry's other top hits. "Legendary Lovers" makes the requisite illuminati references with an allusion to seeing with a "third eye." A slower paced track than "Roar," the song is somewhat banal until a unique tribal beat toward the end, but then transitions back to its distinct brand of badness.
"Birthday" takes the beat back up and serves as the obligatory birthday party song that seems to come out every few years (Madonna's "B-Day Song" in 2012 was the last one that comes to mind). Wielding some fairly generic lyrics that make cliche references (in the vein of Rihanna's "Birthday Cake") to licking frosting, etc., this is not the most innovative of tracks. Following is "Walking on Air," the strongest contender for second single potential, as it sounds like it was extracted from a 90s dance compilation, and is almost too exuberant at times. It also finds Perry veering subtly on the side of her latent religiousness as she croons, "Heaven is jealous of our love/Angels are crying from up above."
“Unconditionally” contains lyrics (at times, trite) that perhaps indicate what Perry wished Russell Brand had said to her during the California Dreams Tour. Toeing the line between out and out ballad and Beyonce-style slow jam, it is one of the better slow-paced tracks on the album. “Dark Horse” is the most hip hop tinged track on Prism (thanks to Juicy J) and teeters between sounding believable as a hip hop song and terrible as a confused pop ditty. Perry also seems to further showcase themes of neediness with the lyrics, “Make me your Aphrodite/Make me your one and only.”
“This Is How We Do” suffers from the affliction of sounding like one of Britney Spears’ filler songs on Britney, not to mention the issue with repeating “do do do do” over and over again throughout. And then there's nonsensical lyrics like “Gettin' our nails did, gettin' all Japanesey” to deal with.“International Smile” finds Perry returning to her vintage hit-making style with a beat reminiscent of “California Gurls” meets something off Daft Punk’s Discovery. As one of the many, many songs produced by Dr. Luke on this album, it is one of the few to actually stand apart, particularly with phrases such as, “She’s a little bit of Yoko and she’s a little bit of Ono.”
“Ghost” is something of a sequel to “E.T.,” thematically speaking. Bearing similarities to an 80s ballad, Perry yet again makes likely references to Russell Brand as she sings, “You’re just a ghost/When I look back, never woulda known that.../There’s just an echo where your heart used to be.” Next up is “Love Me,” easily the realest song on the album as Perry asserts, “I have to love myself the way I want you to love me.” Her ease with explaining occasional feelings of self-doubt/hate are encapsulated by the lyrics, “Sometimes I wish my skin was just a costume, that I could just undress and strip.”
“This Moment” is yet another musical homage to the 80s that Perry is so fond of emulating. The only drawback to this is the cheesiness that often results (e.g. “All we have is this moment, tomorrow’s unspoken/Yesterday is history/So why don’t you be here with me?”). On the plus side, Bloodshy produced the track, adding a bit of sound variety to Prism. “Double Rainbow” continues Perry’s tendency to favor balladry on the record. This is Perry’s fatal mistake on the album, as it is her fast-paced, dance-laden beats that have always gained her the most success. Instead, we get "reflective" sentiments like, “One man’s trash is another woman’s treasure/When I found you it was pitter patter.”
“By the Grace of God” is, obviously, the most overt of Perry’s religious leanings on the album. It is not the strongest song to conclude the standard version of Prism, amounting to a modern rendering of a Jewel song. For those with the deluxe version, “Spiritual” isn’t much of a segue from “By the Grace of God.” This time, Perry echoes the tone of a Moby song as she croons, “Magical world of mystery/All of your charms have worked on me.” Subsequently, “It Takes Two,” the most likable of the three bonus tracks, strikes the perfect balance between energetic and lethargic, and finds Perry questioning, “Is Mercury in retrograde? Or is that the excuse I’ve always made? Cause I wanna blame you, but I can only blame myself.”
Opening with a trance sounding back beat, “Choose Your Battles” is an electric track that would have been better off earlier on in the album. “Choose your battles, babe, then you’ll win the war” is the fundamental message of the song. With sinister music that mirrors the aural vibe of t.A.t.U.’s “All The Things She Said” (yeah, I just went there), “Choose Your Battles” comes across as one of the most earnest efforts on Prism.
Overall, Prism is a listenable album, but it indicates that Perry may be veering toward a limbo sort of pop star age: Too old to continue singing about sugary sweet frivolities, but too young to be able to imbue her songs with lyrics that are all that meaningful.