Unlike fellow pop lionesses Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga, Katy Perry isn't all that interested in revealing herself to us. And truth be told, we don't care all that much what's on her mind, either. Our radio relationship is symbiotic, simple: The 28-year-old provides cotton-candy sing-alongs, and we devour them on the drive to Publix or hauling across the Skyway. Never mind the art: We're in it for the earworms.
That's not to say she has an easy gig. Just ask every One Hit Wonder who I'm Too Sexy'd themselves into pop obscurity. As Perry's new LP Prism, released this week, shows to varying degrees of success, penning hits is tough — even for someone as good at topping charts as Katy Perry.
Her first two major studio releases, 2008's One of the Boys and 2010's Teenage Dream, were multiplatinum monsters absolutely stuffed with Top 10 dynamos: I Kissed a Girl, Hot N Cold, California Gurls, Firework, E.T. and so on.
Prism's first single, the esteem-boosting Roar — produced, like most of the new effort, by Dr. Luke and Max Martin — has been another mega-mover, selling more than 3 million digital copies in the wake of her woe-is-me breakup with Russell Brand.
But Prism's followup singles have yet to catch fire, and with understandable reason. Perry's trademark ebullience and incandescence are missing from Walking on Air, with its clip-clopping club beats and Mad Libs lyricism, a lazy phone-job approach that mars other parts of the LP (see the moronic models-are-people-too spin International Smile).
Subsequent single Dark Horse is more interesting, head-snapping the listener from ominous Dr. Dre-like beats to cascading choruses ("So you wanna play with magic? / Boy, you should know what you're falling for"). Still, it doesn't come close to the transcendence of, say, Waking Up in Vegas or Teenage Dream.
The rest of the album follows that hit-or-miss rhythm, making for Perry's most uneven album yet. Legendary Lovers has Cranberries-Celtic stomp and tribal "ah-oo"s, Perry's voice a constant cartoonish instrument, every utterance as genuine as her false eyelashes — but just as cute. Not so good? The borderline insulting Birthday ("I'll be your gift / Give you something to celebrate") and equally dumb This Is How We Do want to be quasi-redos of Last Friday Night, but both are devoid of that winking, slightly satiric Perry humor.
As much as Prism is about rebounding from her lousy marriage to Brand, it's also tied to her falling for rock lothario John Mayer a.k.a Taylor Swift's fave lyrical punching bag. He finally gets some sweetie-pie songs aimed at him, including belted ballad Unconditionally and solemnly lovely Double Rainbow, both of which are invested with a tender care.
A tireless, but charming, self-promoter, Perry is selling Prism as a dark, confessional, stripped release — which is interesting because it's not really any of those things. Just as on her previous platters of pop fluff, the singer is trying to make the world sing — but here she's coming up a bit short. Considering the run she's had, she's entitled. After all, most pop acts would kill for a bump in the road like this one.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.