Some of Katy Perry’s best songs have made anthems out of self-help platitudes (see: “Firework”), and that tactic is how the pop star approaches her fourth record. On “Love Me,” she sings: “I don’t negotiate with insecurities…. No more standing in my own way.” Prism largely—and vaguely—chronicles life after her failed marriage to Russell Brand; it’s the lingering toothache after 2010’s candy-coated Teenage Dream. Perry’s voice remains pliable and pastel. It’s always been her biggest strength: sensual and voluminous, with a playful filigree of froth. But early singles like “Roar,” “Walking On Air,” and “Dark Horse”—a fist-pumping radio anthem, diva-house dance-pop, and a Miley-style banger—point to this record’s scattered soundscape. The rap sensibility of “Dark Horse,” which features Juicy J, makes it one of Prism’s more interesting songs. Over cartoonishly ominous synth chords and spare snaps, Perry coos head-bopping verses leading up to a double-time, arena-ready hook; the track may cater to trends, but is well-executed. Unfortunately, most of the songs here are neither universal nor forward-thinking and the result is a mopey listen in the guise of “maturity.” Perry’s at her best when she’s uninhibited and stoking euphoria (see: “I Kissed A Girl,” “Teenage Dream”), and though Prism is blithely optimistic—particularly throughout the first half of the album—it’s nevertheless undercut with an uncharacteristic sadness.
Playlist picks: “Roar,” “Birthday,” “Dark Horse (feat. Juicy J.)”