2 stars (out of 4)
Katy Perry and her gaggle of producers go “spiritual”? That was the advance word on “Prism” (Capitol), the follow-up to one of the most commercially successful albums of the last decade.
On the 2010 release “Teenage Dream,” Perry and her song-massagers, including Swedish teen-pop wizard Max Martin, went for girls-gone-wild escapades and hit it big. The album produced five No. 1 singles and sold more than 5 million copies worldwide with its mix of high-energy electro-pop and big ballads. “Prism” sticks with a similar approach but adds a layer of singer-songwriter introspection. The songs loosely chronicle the break-up of Perry’s marriage to Russell Brand and how she bounced back from a depression so deep that she contemplated suicide.
Not that the cartoonish persona of “Teenage Dream” has been completely erased. Once again working primarily with Martin and producer Dr. Luke, “International Smile” echoes the hit “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” and “This is How We Do” – complete with mechanical stutter – finds Perry celebrating the over-indulgences of the over-indulged. “Yo, this one goes out to all you kids who still have your cars at the club valet … and it’s Tuesday.”
As genre exercises go, the horn-flecked “Birthday” and house-fueled “Walking on Air” both qualify as catchy pop tunes. “Legendary Lovers” strikes a mystical Eastern vibe and “Unconditionally” is the type of ballad just begging to be played over schmaltzy wedding scenes in movies.
The main attraction for the celebrity obsessed are the songs in which Perry learns to live without Russell Brand. Beware the attack of the self-empowerment bromides. There is the goofy self-help anthem with a jungle theme, “Roar,” in which she’s acquired the “eye of the tiger” and is “dancing through the fire,” while offering up a wordless vocal hook that sounds like a hiccup.
Because of the tightly wound arrangements, Perry’s big voice becomes more of a sonic ornament than an expressive instrument on many of her songs. But “Ghost” -- which describes the day Brand declared he was divorcing her in a text message – and “By the Grace of God” allow her vulnerability to seep through. “It Takes Two” gives Perry room to stretch out in a pop-soul setting.
Though not exactly spiritual, “Prism” does come off as a more serious – if no less formulaic -- album than its predecessor. But being taken seriously may be Perry’s greatest challenge yet.
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