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Katy Perry - Prism Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 4.5
Musicianship 4.5
Lyrics 4.5
Production 4.5
Creativity 4.5
Lasting Value 4.5
Reviewer Tilt 4.5
Final Verdict: 45%
Member Ratings
Vocals 7.45
Musicianship 6.45
Lyrics 6.85
Production 7
Creativity 6.45
Lasting Value 6.45
Reviewer Tilt 6.45
Average: 67%
Inside AP.net

Katy Perry - Prism

Reviewed by: Craig Manning (10/28/13)
Katy Perry - Prism
Release Date: October 18, 2013
Record Label: Capitol


The first time I heard “Roar,” the lead-off single and opening track from Prism, Katy Perry’s fourth full-length record—as well as Perry’s eighth number one hit—I thought it was a solid pop song. It had a catchy melody, a huge, arena-rock-esque hook, generic lyrics, and just about everything else you would expect from the new Katy Perry single. It was neither a great song nor a terrible one, and after coming to loathe pretty much every radio hit from both 2008’s breakthrough, One of the Boys and 2010’s world-conquering juggernaut, Teenage Dream, “solid pop song” was just about a home run for Perry in my book.

Then I started paying a bit more attention.

In reality, “Roar” is the perfect encapsulation of what Prism is for its first half, not because the song an empty hook with possibly the blandest girl power message of all time—though it is—but because it’s a shameless piece of copycat songwriting that probably owes some of its number one royalties to half a dozen better songs. In his column about this album, Grantland’s Steven Hyden jokingly remarked that Perry should kick eighties pop band Survivor “a couple of shekels” for quoting the title lyric of their inspirational anthem, “Eye of the Tiger,” in the middle of the chorus. “Roar” is also the exact same song as Sara Bareilles’ “Brave,” which was in turn the most generic pop single from this year’s terrific The Blessed Unrest. And while it would be easy to write off the similarities between the two songs as little more than coincidence, a look at the song’s army of pop songwriters makes the similarities a bit more suspect.

“Roar” has five songwriters, all of whom bring a substantial amount of mainstream clout to the table, and two of whom are probably the most successful pop songwriters of the past decade. The first, Max Martin, has a penchant for writing the biggest hits—and worst songs—on big albums by the likes of Taylor Swift and Pink. The second, “Dr.” Lukasz Gottwald, has a history of “writing” songs plagued by accusations of blatant plagiarism. By all accounts, Dr. Luke is a bottom-feeding, opportunistic hack who gets away with stealing other peoples’ songs because he files defamation lawsuits the second anyone accuses him of wrongdoing. It’s hardly surprising that Bareilles shrugged off the comparisons between her song and “Roar” earlier this summer, even though the similarities between the two were enough to fuel a perfect mash-up of Nickelback proportions. No one wants to deal with a lawsuit from the richest songwriter in Hollywood, even if that songwriter is getting away with turning your modest, Top 40 hit into a global number one smash.

Dr. Luke, in my mind, is the summation of everything that’s wrong with pop music today, and he is the cancer that takes Prism from territory of “promising pop album” to “viciously painful slog” in a matter of minutes. The worst offender is “Dark Horse,” the album’s third single, and a pale attempt at emulating the dark club grooves of Justin Timberlake’s recent music—complete with Timbaland-esque spoken word bits and a rap section by Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J that challenges Jay-Z for the title of “worst feature of the year.” “She’s a beast, I call her Karma/She eat your heart out like Jeffrey Dahmer,” J groans over synth blips made to sound like children’s voices. Enough said

“Legendary Lovers” is nearly as bad, with a faux-exotic back-up track that feels like it exists solely to allow Perry the chance to dress up as Cleopatra and dance in front of pyramids for a bad music video. It’s Luke and Martin’s attempt to turn Perry into Madonna. And the groovy eighties pop of “Birthday” is a mercilessly catchy cobble-job of Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and Christina Aguilera’s “Come on Over,” but the sense that we’ve heard it all before hardly matters: the song will be a huge hit and a birthday playlist staple until the end of time.

Predictably, Prism is at its best when it kicks Dr. Luke to the curb, like on the weightless ‘90s Eurodance tribute that is “Walking on Air,” or the closing sappy ballad trio of “This Moment,” “Double Rainbow,” and “By the Grace of God.” “Walking on Air” is no more original than any of the Luke contributions—the prevalent “deny it” vocal sample is an openly nostalgic look back at C+C Music Factory’s iconic “Everybody Dance Now”—but here, the imitation feels like genuine inspiration rather than sneaky theft.

Meanwhile, “Double Rainbow” and “By the Grace of God” both appear as generic, introspective ballads on the surface, but handily trump the set’s other pair of introspective ballads—“Unconditionally” and “Ghost”—because they show a refreshing lack of pretense or unnecessary pop bombast. “Unconditionally” is fine, a solid melody tarnished somewhat by an awkward rhyme scheme and a bizarre pronunciation of the title word on the chorus. “Ghost” is less fine, a cringeworthy bundle of lyrical clichés minus Perry’s usual soaring hook. Still, both songs make more sense in context than the “California Gurls” rewrite that is “This Is How We Do” or the jet-setting diva pop of “International Smile,” mainly because Prism is justifiably a more downbeat affair than Teenage Dream. If Dream was the “falling in love” album, then Prism is the break-up record, thanks to Perry’s 2012 divorce from actor Russell Brand. And a Ke$ha-esque throwaway like “This Is How We Do,” whether or not it lives up to its extremely premature title of “song of the summer, 2014,” has absolutely no place on a break-up album.

Luckily, “Double Rainbow,” despite its title, is far from a “Firework” sequel. Co-written by singer/songwriter Sia, the song is a downtrodden look back at the beginning of a relationship after everything has gone to hell. And while the lyrics aren’t particularly stunning on the surface, Perry’s low-key delivery of “I understand you, we see eye to eye” on the chorus hits harder than anything from one of her many chart-topping hits. “By the Grace of God” is similarly devastating, chronicling the self-confessed suicidal musings that plagued Perry in the wake of her divorce. “I wasn’t gonna let love take me out that way,” Perry sings. It’s the most resilient, revealing line of her career, and it’s a sign that, maybe, without all the studio gloss or big-name songwriters, she could be a hell of a lot more than what this album shows us.

The same feeling is prevalent on “This Moment,” a prom-ready power ballad and the album’s best song. Come next spring, with graduations going off around the country and endings in the air, the song could be a huge, ubiquitous hit. But for now at least, it’s just a damn good example of what a good, generic, inspirational pop song can be. Perry’s vocal is powerful and emotive; the song’s build climactic and forceful. It’s hardly more unique than the annual American Idol coronation song, but along with the two confessional ballads that follow it, “This Moment” is an indication of the music that I think Perry actually wants to make. As the album moves forward, the highly-paid songwriters fall away and the production gets stripped back, leaving us with a much clearer portrait of who Katy Perry would be without the major label system throwing millions of dollars at her albums.

The trend leaves a frustrating dichotomy—between big pop smashes and confessional ballads—that renders Prism messy, inconsistent, and difficult to get a hold on. Had the label let Perry make a downbeat break-up album, it might have been great. As is, Dr. Luke and Max Martin turn Prism into their own personal pop songwriting dick measuring contest, pushing Perry’s actual personality into the background and stringing her up with grating hooks, horrifically awful lyrics, and enough clichés of the festering pop music scene to show anyone why the industry is rotting itself from the inside out. When the moments of clarity kick in toward the end, they force a double take, but they aren’t enough to save what is, for the majority of its runtime, an album with too many cooks in the kitchen and not enough good songs to recommend.

4.5/10

Additional InformationTracklist:
01. Roar
02. Legendary Lovers
03. Birthday
04. Walking On Air
05. Unconditionally
06. Dark Horse (feat. Juicy J)
07. This Is How We Do
08. International Smile
09. Ghost
10. Love Me
11. This Moment
12. Double Rainbow
13. By The Grace Of God

Produced By: Lukasz Gottwald (Dr. Luke), Max Martin, Cirkut, Klas Åhlund, Bloodshy, StarGate, Benny Blanco, Greg Kurstin, Katy Perry, Greg Wells (10)

Songwriting Credits: Katy Perry, Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Henry Walter, Klas Åhlund, Jordan Houston, Sarah Hudson, Christian Karlsson. Vincent Pontare, Magnus Lidehäll, Tor Erik Hermansen, Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, Benjamin Levin, Sia Furler, Greg Kurstin, Greg Wells (17)
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 71.
06:21 AM on 10/28/13
#2
jorbjorb
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She's a very talented lady.
06:30 AM on 10/28/13
#3
kianacarly
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You know, I was a bit worried the review would be really negative, but I agree with most of it actually. I like Prism more than most (I am even the one person who likes Dark Horse lol) but I think you pinpointed a lot of the problems with the album. Also, yes, go in on Dr. Luke. I am so tired of people wanting Max Martin and Dr. Luke to work with every pop artist ever. More artists need to work with Sia imo.


OOTB remains my favorite Katy album. It seems the most "her" compared to her other records.
06:40 AM on 10/28/13
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Craig Manning
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You know, I was a bit worried the review would be really negative, but I agree with most of it actually. I like Prism more than most (I am even the one person who likes Dark Horse lol) but I think you pinpointed a lot of the problems with the album. Also, yes, go in on Dr. Luke. I am so tired of people wanting Max Martin and Dr. Luke to work with every pop artist ever. More artists need to work with Sia imo.


OOTB remains my favorite Katy album. It seems the most "her" compared to her other records.
I would be really interested to hear her do a more stripped down, organic record with a few lesser-known songwriters who she obviously clicks with (Sia would definitely be one of them). I think what happened here was that the label really wanted another Teenage Dream, but she really just wasn't in that headspace anymore. It ends up being a very weird record, tonally, because of how much label interference there is. Lose Luke and Martin and this album would probably have been about twice as good. Just because they write catchy hooks and score big hits doesn't mean they're good songwriters, and I don't think they are who she needs to be working with at this stage in her career.
06:51 AM on 10/28/13
#5
kianacarly
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I would be really interested to hear her do a more stripped down, organic record with a few lesser-known songwriters who she obviously clicks with (Sia would definitely be one of them). I think what happened here was that the label really wanted another Teenage Dream, but she really just wasn't in that headspace anymore. It ends up being a very weird record, tonally, because of how much label interference there is. Lose Luke and Martin and this album would probably have been about twice as good. Just because they write catchy hooks and score big hits doesn't mean they're good songwriters, and I don't think they are who she needs to be working with at this stage in her career.
I 100% agree. I remember her saying that she wanted to do a more stripped down, acousticy album that was a bit darker after her divorce. I have a feeling her label interfered, and that makes me sad because I think that could've worked for her. Just from her interviews this album cycle, she seems in a very different phase of her life after her divorce, and it doesn't seem she's as into the cupcake bikinis and whipped cream bra-type stuff that much anymore, and I don't blame her. Besides, she can only push out the same radio hits for so long before she starts to get stale. A more stripped down album might actually gain her some of the dedicated fanbase she needs to transition from a singles artist.
06:56 AM on 10/28/13
#6
Craig Manning
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I 100% agree. I remember her saying that she wanted to do a more stripped down, acousticy album that was a bit darker after her divorce. I have a feeling her label interfered, and that makes me sad because I think that could've worked for her. Just from her interviews this album cycle, she seems in a very different phase of her life after her divorce, and it doesn't seem she's as into the cupcake bikinis and whipped cream bra-type stuff that much anymore, and I don't blame her. Besides, she can only push out the same radio hits for so long before she starts to get stale. A more stripped down album might actually gain her some of the dedicated fanbase she needs to transition from a singles artist.
That would be great. I think there will definitely be a law of diminishing returns as far as her soaring pop song thing goes. Teenage Dream was the culmination; this one won't have as many hits, and the next one will either go in a different direction or have a much more minor place in the mainstream. I think people are ready to hear something different from her. And preferably something where there aren't five, six, or seven songwriters getting credit on a single song. It makes perfect sense that this album gets better as it goes and gets down to just Perry writing with one other person.
07:03 AM on 10/28/13
#7
truthbetoldxx
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Dr. Luke produced pretty much every #1 Katy perry had on the last album and most of those spawned TONS of derivative tracks. I can't stand people on this site who seem to have read Butch Walker's book and now hate Dr. Luke. Yes, Roar and Brave have the same chords, there's no denying that. Normally, if anything Luke makes stuff that sounds similar to his other songs. He has a pretty distinct style. I think the entire passage about your hate of him is completely unecessary when you can't be informed on what went into making either brave or roar completely.
07:09 AM on 10/28/13
#8
truthbetoldxx
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Pop music is about one thing, and that is making money. Whether we like it or not, pop producers are not trying to break ground. I don't care who they are, they're going for what's going to hit on the radio. And that's just the way it is.
07:12 AM on 10/28/13
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kianacarly
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I never read Butch Walker's book and I know nothing about Dr. Luke besides the hit songs I hear all over radio, I'm just getting tired of him. I want artists to branch out and go for different sounds and work with different people. Katy's best song has her credited as the sole songwriter (and produced by Butch Walker lol). I think she relies on Dr. Luke too much now, when she's capable of doing well herself and working with different people and still being successful.
07:16 AM on 10/28/13
mbao
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Very interesting discussion, from the review to the replies. Good read. It's a sign of your writing capability and your worth as a reviewer how you can turn "This album is fucking generic and disappointing," into something more extensive like that review.
07:23 AM on 10/28/13
Zack Zarrillo
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Pop music is about one thing, and that is making money. Whether we like it or not, pop producers are not trying to break ground. I don't care who they are, they're going for what's going to hit on the radio. And that's just the way it is.
I don't necessarily agree. fun., I think, being a good example. Same with Tegan And Sara, or even Paramore's new album in spots.
07:30 AM on 10/28/13
WasteSomeTime
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I agree with alot of whats being said here although I'm sick of people here being so impressed by what Butch Walker has said.
07:41 AM on 10/28/13
herestoyoufla
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I never read Butch Walker's book and I know nothing about Dr. Luke besides the hit songs I hear all over radio, I'm just getting tired of him. I want artists to branch out and go for different sounds and work with different people. Katy's best song has her credited as the sole songwriter (and produced by Butch Walker lol). I think she relies on Dr. Luke too much now, when she's capable of doing well herself and working with different people and still being successful.
I couldn't agree with you more.
07:51 AM on 10/28/13
Craig Manning
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Dr. Luke produced pretty much every #1 Katy perry had on the last album and most of those spawned TONS of derivative tracks. I can't stand people on this site who seem to have read Butch Walker's book and now hate Dr. Luke. Yes, Roar and Brave have the same chords, there's no denying that. Normally, if anything Luke makes stuff that sounds similar to his other songs. He has a pretty distinct style. I think the entire passage about your hate of him is completely unecessary when you can't be informed on what went into making either brave or roar completely.

While I have read Butch Walker's book, I've also read plenty of other articles, artist accounts, and industry chatter that posits Luke as precisely the person Walker describes him as. He's stolen more tracks than "Girlfriend," and notions of plagiarism have surrounded his career for years now. He still gets work because he can make other peoples' songs catchier and more geared toward what the mainstream is right now, but that doesn't mean he's a good songwriter or that my passage about him is unnecessary. In actuality, that's the entire point of the review: I think he's a bad songwriter and I think he makes the first half of this album legitimately painful to sit through; I think Perry could do better with a core team of three or four writers not including him; and I think his style is largely what has made pop radio so, so terrible over the past few years.

And you're right, I wasn't in the studio while "Brave" and "Roar" were being recorded, but that doesn't make them any less identical. Considering Luke's history of writing songs that sound a hell of a lot like songs that other people have written, I don't think it's unfounded to wonder whether or not he stole this one too. And if he didn't, then 'Roar" should not have been the lead-off single. It's bullshit that it came along when "Brave" was already on the radio and actually became more successful because it had the name "Katy Perry" on it.

Pop music is about one thing, and that is making money. Whether we like it or not, pop producers are not trying to break ground. I don't care who they are, they're going for what's going to hit on the radio. And that's just the way it is.

Exactly, the producers don't give a shit. But the artists do, and I would much rather hear a Katy Perry who is following her own artistic vision than a Katy Perry who is getting pushed in shitty directions because her songwriters only care about adding another number 1 hit to their resume.

Very interesting discussion, from the review to the replies. Good read. It's a sign of your writing capability and your worth as a reviewer how you can turn "This album is fucking generic and disappointing," into something more extensive like that review.

If I had reviewed it on the first day I heard it, I would have absolutely torn it apart. But more time revealed that the later tracks were surprisingly deep, at least in terms of their personal meaning to Perry. But thanks for reading and for the compliment.

I agree with alot of whats being said here although I'm sick of people here being so impressed by what Butch Walker has said.

I don't think you have to be impressed by what Butch Walker said to hate Dr. Luke. Sure, Walker's situation was definitely the most deplorable one I've heard, but his history of filing defamation lawsuits against the people he steals from speaks for itself. He behaves like he's guilty, which leads me to believe that he has been guilty on at least a dozen occasions.
08:01 AM on 10/28/13
chewbacca110
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" Dr. Luke and Max Martin turn Prism into their own personal pop songwriting dick measuring contest, pushing Perry’s actual personality into the background and stringing her up with grating hooks, horrifically awful lyrics, and enough clichés of the festering pop music scene to show anyone why the industry is rotting itself from the inside out."

Nail on the head, my friend. Great, objective review.
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