It has been three years since Katy Perry’s second album — if you’re not counting her stint as a Christian Rock artist — “Teenage Dream” conquered radio waves and catapulted Perry into dizzying heights of the pop-star stratosphere. Her third album, “PRISM,” ditches the confection-themed theatrics of “Teenage Dream” and cashes in on Perry’s ability to playact her way through every song.
Make no mistake, “PRISM” is a gargantuan pop-monolith of the highest order that is expertly produced, lyrically deprived and totally unfocused. It is also loaded with hooks and completely engaging vocals. Perry sells each song with exhausting conviction. For instance, “Legendary Lovers” is a tabla- and sitar-infused chant that succeeds based solely on the intriguing production and Perry’s hushed and sultry vocals. Strained lyrics like “I feel my lotus bloom” suggest that album writers Perry, Bonnie McKee, Max Martin and Dr. Luke aimed to explore every exhausted cliché within reach. When that wasn’t an option, they opted for odd and cheesy self-affirmations.
The track “This is How We Do” is another example of poor lyrics. It would be a ho-hum party anthem were it not for lyrics such as, “Now we’re talking astrology/ Getting’ our nails did all Japanese-y” that Perry manages to convert into humor via a sassy laugh.
All throughout the record, the stand-out production value and Perry’s melodramatics carry each and every song. “Walking On Air” is a genius ’90s dance-club throwback with a gospel-choir finish, while “Birthday” is filled with sugary guitars, a bubbly drum loop and a balloons-as-breasts metaphor. The second half of the album is weighed down with ballads that, once again, are beautifully produced but poorly written — most of the lyrics sound like they were pulled straight from a self-help book.
Yet again, Perry fills the role required for the songs she is handed. But often, she doesn’t sound genuine. In “By the Grace of God,” which Perry said was inspired by her divorce from Russell Brand, she sings “I thank my sister for keeping my head above the water/ When the truth was like swallowing sand.” Ballads have always been Perry’s weakness, and she seems particularly absent from the latter half of the album.
In short, the main issue with “PRISM” is that it proves its talented, headlining diva is skilled at convincing her audience that subpar material is actually decent. However, any attempt to show real emotion simply comes off as artifice, a struggle that the album never seems to be able to overcome.