Friday, July 13, 2012

Teenaged Nightmare

Taken from the reviews section of Music Maven Magazine, October 2015 issue.

Katy Perry
….another thing.
3 stars out of 5.

When Katy Perry became the mortal host for the spirit of Gaia, absorbing the power of the breathing soul of the world and using it to return the dark lord Ne’charthro’hu to its slumber beneath the sea, saving humanity from ten thousand years of torment, the first question on the average music journalist’s mind was likely not “how will this affect the sound of Ms. Perry’s next album?"

In fact, if I can be taken as an example of an average music journalist (I flatter myself that I can) we were more interested in fighting our way through still burning cities to find our families and tell them how much they mean to us in the aftermath of what came precariously close to global superapocalypse.

Nonetheless, previous to becoming the living embodiment of the human spirit, she-who-is-all-of-us was a pop singer of some renown. Her last album, 2010’s Teenaged Dream, sold 5.5 million copies worldwide, spinning off an impressive 8 international top 10 hits and gaining its young mastermind enough media exposure that, even before Ne’charthro’hu awoke and threatened to devour mankind, she was already a ubiquitous figure in the pop landscape. With this in mind, it should be no surprise that, after taking two years of “Katy Time” to adjust to her new status as a demigod (and have a baby), Ms. Perry would return to her day job and release a new album, and it should be equally unsurprising that said album would be difficult to judge on its own merits, being tied as it is to a metabeing such as Ms. Perry.

So, how does “…another thing” stand, divorced from its back-story as best it can be? It’s… fine, I suppose. The album’s built around three main pillars, the energetic leadoff single Heartbeaten, already a fixture of pop radio, the slinky, Roxy Music inspired dance number Underwater, sure to join Heartbeaten at the top of the charts when it’s finally released as a single, and the soaring orchestral ballad My Own Self. From the titles, one would assume that some portion of “…another thing” is an exercise in introspection, as Ms. Perry attempts to put the recent massive changes in her life into some kind of context digestible to the mainstream pop audience, but nothing could be further from the truth. Lyrically the album eschews any overt reference to how close humanity came to extinction, choosing instead to play it safe, taking refuge in party-pop clichés of bars, boys and pg-rated double entendres.

Which isn’t to say this is a bad thing, necessarily. Ms. Perry has never been an artist who thrives outside her comfort zone, and her formulae has in the past made for some immensely satisfying pop. However, what “…another thing” suffers from that her previous albums lacked is filler. A lot of filler. Understandable, perhaps, that between visits to gracious world leaders and explaining and re-explaining that no, she does not require worship from the people of Earth for what she’s done for us, she’d have too much on her plate to devote a full measure of attention to this project even if she’d wanted to, but nonetheless, once you venture outside the three massive tracks this album’s built around it starts to sound extraordinarily slight.

The songs bounce along at a brisk clip, and they’ll keep your toes tapping, but there’s very little behind them to remember, even seconds after you stop listening. Teenaged Dream may not have been deep, but it was at least fun from beginning to end, by the time you get to the end of this album you’re left with the impression that it’s only half finished, that the songs are too little, the production too rushed and that Ms. Perry was called away before its completion to attend to some more urgent business. The singles are there, and all three will do a fine job of defining commercial radio circa 2015 for future generations, but in between stretches what at times feels like a wasteland of missed opportunity.

And let’s not be coy about this, I’m as happy as the next pop reviewer not to be devoured body and soul by an ancient, eldritch being beyond all human comprehension, but the duet with Pitbull here does NOT work, and no amount of saving humanity will ever cause me to say otherwise.

None of which, by the way, is in any way relevant in terms of how this album will do commercially. From the success of Heartbeaten (18 weeks and counting at #1 on the pop charts, and 14 million copies sold worldwide to date) it’s clear that “…another thing” is a serious contender to take its spot as the most successful commercial pop album in the history of the form, regardless of its objective quality. The world watched Katy Perry save them from the endless night of screaming, and the world now seems more than willing to show its savior just how grateful they are. I, for one, received a review copy of this album, and intend to buy several copies at full price anyway. It seems like making pop music is something of personal import to Katy Perry, and I’m only too happy to do my part to indulge her in this pursuit.

I only wish I could’ve gotten a more substantial album out of the process…

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