Katy PerryPrism/Capitol Records
Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” was perfect pop pleasantry, full of back-to-back hits that were oh-so-fun and addictive, fused with humor, emotion and a hint of edge. How could you resist?
Perry has some of that energy on “Prism,” her third album, which comes three years after her pop star breakthrough. But she lacks some of the fiery fierceness and excitement that dominated “Teenage Dream.”
The singer’s new electro-pop songs are likable, and surely there are some Top 10 hits here, but she’s playing it safe. “Prism” is Perry as plain Jane.
The California girl, who turned 29 on Oct. 25, is now singing self-help anthems and about recovering from her 2011 divorce from comedian-actor Russell Brand.
The songs, though, don’t drip with emotion and she rarely gets deep: The Sia-penned “Double Rainbow” and “By the Grace of God,” slow grooves that close the album, don’t really scratch the surface. They are good but could be great if Perry didn’t hold back and explored more lyrically and sonically. “Wasn’t going to let love take me out that way,” she sings on “Grace of God,” apparently about contemplating suicide. While that topic is heavy, the song sounds like “Wide Awake” 2.0.
“Prism” was primarily written and produced with her frequent collaborators and hitmakers Max Martin, Dr. Luke and Bonnie McKee. But they don’t always bring out the best Perry: “International Smile” is cheesy and “Legendary Lovers” is forgettable.
Even “Roar,” the eighth No. 1 hit for Perry, lacks oomph and swag. It can’t compete with Sara Bareilles’ similar “Brave.”
Her team fares better on the sultry and upbeat “Birthday” and “Dark Horse,” featuring rapper Juicy J, which works thanks to its mesh of Southern hip-hop and electronic flavors.
When Perry borders on changing up her sound and taking some risks, she is best. The irresistible deep house track “Walking on Air,” a collaboration with Swedish producer Klas Ahlund, is a shining effort, while the bonus track “Spiritual,” co-written with beau John Mayer, is a groovy highlight.
Part of the problem with “Prism” is it doesn’t showcase much of Perry’s personality. There is no high volume party anthem like “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” that captured her silly and playful side, no spitting fire anger of “Circle the Drain” or the deeply felt, powerhouse vocals of “Thinking of You” from her 2008 debut, “One of the Boys.”
Instead, Perry comes off like a pop tart robot on her new effort. She’s busy keeping up with radio and others, and not creating her own lane: Even the beginning beat of “This Moment” sounds like Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” — in the way “Roar” sounds like “Brave.”
“Prism” is enough to keep Perry on the charts, but it’s time to think outside of the Billboard.
By Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press
Toby KeithDrinks After Work/Show Dog-Universal
Toby Keith opens his new album “Drinks After Work” with a song that utilizes the hip-hop rhythms dominating contemporary country music these days. At age 52, and in his 20th year as a country star, Keith makes it work for him.
He simply applies the updated rhythms to his typical macho style, filling the lyrics of “Shut Up and Hold On” with sly wit and a load of double entendres that will upset feminists but entertain Keith’s working-class fan base.
From there, the Oklahoman slips into his wheelhouse, mixing macho come-ons (“Show Me What You’re Workin’ With”) with philosophical slices of life (“I’ll Probably Be Out Fishin’ ”) and party tunes about escaping 9-to-5 drudgery (the title cut) — all set to guitar-driven country rock.
What amazes is how consistently Keith hits high marks on “Drinks After Work,” despite releasing an album of new material annually since 2005. The reliability comes from Keith’s knack for creating new material that fits his big-shouldered, swaggering persona, with help from a well-established crew of co-writers (Scotty Emerick, Bobbie Pinson and Rivers Rutherford).
From the easy acoustic swing of “The Last Living Cowboy” to the wistful idealism of “Before We Knew They Were Good” to the contemplative romance of “Little Miss Tear Stain,” these songs represent a veteran country star who remains at the top of his game.
By Michael McCall, Associated Press
Willie NelsonTo All The Girls ... /Sony Legacy
Willie Nelson’s “To All The Girls ... ,” an album of duets with female partners, is custom-made for the download age. Few fans will connect with all 16 songs — the set is too eclectic and too inconsistent for that. But plenty of gold nuggets shine through for those willing to pick through the miscues and throwaways.
The second album of original material released this year by Nelson, and his fifth new album in three years, the ever-productive 80-year-old keeps pouring out new music, even when a little self-editing might make the individual packages stronger.
The gems on “To All The Girls ...” include a stunning multi-lingual duet with Alison Krauss on “No Mas Amor” (written by Keith Gattis and Sammy Barrett) and covers of Merle Haggard’s “Somewhere Between,” in an emotion-packed version with Loretta Lynn, and a swinging “Till The End of the World” with Shelby Lynne.
On the other hand, Dolly Parton’s self-written contribution, “From Here To The Moon And Back,” suffers from over-sentimentality.
A cover of the country chestnut, “Making Believe,” drags due to a lifeless reading by Nelson, a point driven home by how much more feeling duet partner Brandi Carlile brings to her part.
Nelson’s previous album, “Let’s Face The Music And Dance,” released just six months ago, is among 2013’s less-recognized highlights. Some selective care would have made “To All The Girls ...” another strong outing, rather than one that alternately soars and sputters.
By Michael McCall, Associated Press