REVIEW: Katy Perry, 'Teenage Dream'
Katy Perry has no illusions about her place in the pop-culture universe. She's a sugar-spun confection, background music for spin the bottle. And to show she's silly and self-aware — a winky antidote to art-pop's Lady Gaga — the saucer-eyed Perry scents her new album, Teenage Dream, like cotton candy (or at least some princessy lip-gloss variation of the stink). Scratch, sniff, enjoy the slumber party.
For all her sweet-tooth charms, however, Perry is also incredibly ambitious, one eye on the roller rink, the other on the balance sheet. She longs to be the bejeweled Queen of the Mall, frolicking with the kids and the accountants. And it's this inner struggle that makes the followup to '08's multiplatinum One of the Boys a wildly uneven affair, with the record ultimately leaning toward the sophomore-slump position.
You can tell when the 25-year-old singer-songwriter is being honest, as on Teenage Dream's summer-lovin' title track, which has all the genuine shimmer of a Grease sing-along ("Got a motel and built a fort out of sheets"). Also sweet is the empowering Firework, which shows Perry ditching the affected Dale Bozzio vocal squawks and singing with full, likable heat. Even ubiquitous smash California Gurls, although now fading into novelty status, smartly plays into her vampy, stiletto'd image.
But far too often, Perry and superproducers Dr. Luke and Max Martin (both of whom have concocted hits for Kelly Clarkson and Pink) are merely mimicking what's out there, never mind that Perry has more charisma and unique spark than most of today's "stars." They try to out-tart Ke$ha with the acrid "I smell like a minibar" slime of Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.); it rings false and desperate. They try to out-chant Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girl with the execrable Peacock, which is so below Perry I'm shocked her Capitol record label didn't step in. I like innuendo and naughty talk more than the next guy, but Peacock is so lazily crass it could sink a career.
As the 12-track album gets deeper, you keep waiting for a Perry gem a la Waking Up in Vegas, I Kissed a Girl or Hot N Cold to show up. But it never does. Instead, all you're really left with is the merciless headache-inducing odor of synthetic cotton candy on your hands. Yum.
'Camp Rock 2' | Eye of the Tiger Beat
This Friday, at 8 p.m., my daughters will forget that I exist. Instead, their wee worlds — Kid Lulu is 6, Mai-Mai is 2 — will rotate around the Colgate grins of Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato. Yes, the Disney Channel's Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam is about to invade the Daly manse — not to mention millions of other youth-dominated domiciles around the soon-to-be-giddy globe.
I haven't seen the movie yet — ironically, this time next week, I will have viewed it approximately 476 times — but the PR folks at the Mouse House sent me the CR2 soundtrack. The tunes for the original flick weren't exactly Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds, but Disney's songwriters managed to blend youthful cliche with nice power-pop sheen. In other words, songs such as Play My Music and Gotta Find You were better than they had to be.
As for the new batch of ditties, let's just say it's going to be a long autumn in the minivan. Although capable scamp singers the JoBros are back, as are Lovato, Alyson Stoner and Meaghan Martin, CR2 is an endless onslaught of vaguely '80s-generic cheese. Seriously, it sounds like they took the synth-and-steroid no-name pap from Rocky 4 and slapped it in here. From Can't Back Down (sample lyrics: "We can't / We can't back down / We can't / We can't back down") to It's On (sample lyrics: "It's on / It's on / It's on"), the go-get-'em songs are fast-paced and utterly nuance-free. The duet Wouldn't Change a Thing, co-written by Glee music producer Adam Anders, has a good hook. But for the most part, the music conjures up a grunting Stallone rather than grinning 'tweens. Yo Adrian, get me an aspirin.