Prism

Katy Perry's 2010 album, Teenage Dream, was such a massive blockbuster that we've had to wait three years for the follow-up where she reveals the multifaceted artist behind the fun pop sheen. And Prism is as prismatic as all get-out: There's the Blakean feline of "Roar," the trap-rap interlocutor of "Dark Horse" (featuring Juicy J of Three 6 Mafia), the jet-set gal pal of "International Smile." On "Ghost," she lances the boil on her soul that is Russell Brand. On "This Is How We Do," she's a liberated weekday warrior, going from all-night parties with the boys to "Japaneezy" nail appointments to kamikaze Mariah karaoke. It's amazing she was able to cram all this Katy onto one album.

Some of Teenage Dream's sunny effervescence remains intact here ("Time to bring out the big balloons," she promises on the lush disco shwanger "Birthday"). But Perry and her longtime collaborators Dr. Luke and Max Martin often go for a darker, moodier intimacy à la high-end Swedish divas Robyn and Lykke Li. Songs like "Legendary Lovers" and "Unconditionally" set stark revelations to torrential Euro splendor. Perry has always done a great job of letting us know she's in on the joke of pop stardom. Sadly, she doesn't always bring that same sense of humor and self-awareness to the joke of pop-star introspection. The album's raft of ripe-lotus ballads is larded with Alanis-ian poesy she can't pull off: "I thank my sister for keeping my head above the water/When the truth was like swallowing sand," she sings on "By the Grace of God." A California girl should know that there are better things to do at the beach.

From The Archives Issue 1195: November 7, 2013