A lot can happen in two years – financial crisis, swine flu – and if you’re a lady pop star, watch out. In 2008, Katy Perry’s sailor-mouthed pinup persona seemed genuinely fresh. But, since then, she’s been upstaged in the outrageousness stakes by the likes of Lady Gaga and Ke$ha. Accordingly, much of Perry’s sophomore album, Teenage Dream, seems tame by 2010’s frenzied standards. Its standout singles are phenomenal: the slap-bass, hands-in-the-air idiocy of ‘California Gurls’ is a delight, and Perry belts out ‘Teenage Dream’ with real conviction (she was halfway through writing the song when she met future fiancé comedian Russell Brand).
But the album as a whole gets wearisome, partly because, unless you have the songwriting chops of, say, Joanna Newsom, 12 tracks is a lot to ask of your listener. The arrangements grow samey, and Perry rarely varies the tone of her voice: 90 percent power-yell, 10 percent whisper. Further, Perry is to lyric-writing what Hulk Hogan is to diamond-cutting. On a song like ‘Peacock’, her lack of subtlety is funny, but so much of the album is built on single entendres that when Perry goes for an empowerment song, you’re not sure if the ‘pear’ she’s singing about is her heroine’s inner light or something else.
The album’s closer is its most affecting moment. ‘Not Like the Movies’ is a thoughtful piano ballad, invested with the kind of theatrical emotion you expect from Patti LuPone; it suggests that Perry may yet achieve longevity by virtue of being an old-fashioned entertainer.
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