Teenage Dream by Katy Perry
Katy Perry is a singular artist, but at times one suspects that her singularity is largely superficial, if not altogether an illusion of savvy marketing: that she's less a singular artist than one cleverly packaged as singular. Though she’s blessed with a powerful and expressive voice, even when Perry consciously avoids the pitfall of cliched, bluesy, melismatic vocalizing, she still manages to sound a bit like "everybody else." Added to which, the bankable reputations of those high profile pop songwriters with whom she has most consistently collaborated have been largely staked on their own talents for mimicking "everybody else." So, bearing all of this in mind, it may prove rather daunting to judge something like Teenage Dream as an singular artistic statement with a uniform aesthetic, in other words: an album.
The title-track is based around a gentle, clean guitar pattern in a prime example of that tendency on the part of songwriters Dr. Luke and Max Martin to transparently subsume, or tastefully adumbrate, familiar stylistic hallmarks of punk’s and indie rock's past to broadly saleable ends. Oddly enough, the song conveys a markedly restrained tone, slowly building to a powerful albeit still controlled middle eight, with an emotionally stirring vocal performance that almost puts its trivial lyrics to shame. "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" integrates nu-disco and whacky sound effects in another consummate Luke/Martin pop song seemingly culled from some inexhaustible wellspring of pop hooks, capped off by an excellent saxophone solo interposed with DJ cutting, which would probably inspire bilious cries of bad taste if it didn't work so perfectly here. And it probably goes without saying that "California Gurls" is one of the best songs for which Perry and the songwriting team have teamed up thus far.
...then there are the other nine tracks, the sudden onset of consternation as the listener begins to fear that he or she may be dealing with a front-loaded album: "Firework", Teenage Dream's (puzzling) third single is the first real disappointment, with an instantly forgettable melody and worse than average lyrics. But directly following that is another far better Stargate track: "Peacock," perhaps a future classic novelty song, granting the album a reprieve due to its insatiably catchy melodies and rich, textured production.
Fortunately, "Circle the Drain," along with "The One That Got Away," "Not Like the Movies" and "Pearl" are the only truly middling singles-album filler tracks on Teenage Dream, making this a largely successful venture. "E.T.", followed by "Who Am I Living For?," form a pair of decent, vaguely anthemic would-be singles, featuring, as ever, barnstorming vocal performances from Perry and "Hummingbird Heartbeat" is one of the album's best tracks: working quite well here though it would make even more sense as a Journey or Def Leppard song.
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