Considering Katy Perry was born to a couple of Pentecostal ministers and raised without much secular music, it makes sense that her first record, 2001’s Katy Hudson, would be a gospel album. Since then, though, Perry’s taken on a new last name, gotten married and divorced, and made a career as a whipped-cream-bra-wearing, double entendre-slinging pop artist. Amy Grant, she is not.
What Perry is, though—or is trying to become on her latest effort, Prism—is an inspirational singer. Not that she’s trying to backslide into to her Pentecostal past, dragging her unsuspecting mainstream listeners with her. Rather, she’s taken to writing songs about destiny, self-love, and listening to the audiobook for The Power Of Now. Tracks like “Unconditionally” find Perry waxing spiritual about universal love, and are full of lyrics that were inspired, according to the singer herself, by a visit to Africa. Mega-single “Roar,” which has already topped the Billboard charts, is a feel-good midtempo number about the power of self-determination. Even “Legendary Lovers,” one of Prism’s dancier tracks, contains lines about mantras and how she wants her lover to “say [her] name like a scripture.” Offset with thumping toms, Bhangra beats, and a heaping helping of Perry’s sexual innuendo, the singer manages to turn a song about how she “never knew karma could be so rewarding” into a club cut.
All that subtle (or not so subtle) inspiration can get a little exhausting for listeners. A lot of Prism is simply forgettable. “Ghost,” a ballad with lyrics about rebounding from a breakup, fits right in with the style of songs that have landed Perry atop the Billboard charts eight times, but isn’t special enough to really stand out on this record. Another similarly midtempo track, “This Moment,” was inspired by the aforementioned The Power Of Now, and finds Perry singing lines like “no one’s going to stand in my way” over and over to diminishing effect. Even “Double Rainbow,” which was co-written by Zero 7 vocalist Sia Furler, is a lackluster synth-driven ballad with such saccharine lyrics as “We see eye to eye / Like a double rainbow in the sky.”
It stands to reason that Perry would have a song about a rainbow—and an Internet-meme rainbow, at that—on her record. Her production and lyrics are layered with glitter and haze. Everything’s sunny in Katy Perry’s world; even her influences, like Mariah Carey—who’s mentioned as both an influence for the track “Birthday” and by name on future single “This Is How We Do”—aren’t all that challenging. When Perry does stretch, like on the CeCe Peniston/Crystal Waters-influenced house cut “Walking On Air” or the bass-heavy rap “Dark Horse,” she tends to falter. Both tracks are perfectly okay, but certainly not among Perry’s best.
In the end, it’s the singles that make Prism at least a little worthwhile. “Roar” is a classic radio earworm. The Carey-influenced “Birthday” is pure fun, with notes of R. Kelly’s “Step In The Name Of Love” echoing throughout its sing-along chorus. “This Is How We Do” is already being lauded as the summer song of 2014, and it could very well be, with its poppy backbeat and easily referenced lyrics about Backstreet Boys and day drinking. And while “International Smile,” a song about a globetrotting stewardess/DJ/person of mystery gets a little hokey when a soaring Daft Punk-style vocoder drops into the track, it’s that kind of pop cheese that’ll probably make it a success.
Those singles don’t make the entire record worth purchasing, though. As a whole, Prism is forgettable. It’s neither good nor bad, and it’s not inspirational enough to set anyone on fire who’s not already an 11-year-old girl, closeted teen boy, or existing Perry fanatic. Buy the singles, skip the rest.