REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/05/2010
Katy Perry began career in a mold much closer to Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera than the Madonna-inspired fashionings of Lady Gaga. Her debut album One Of The Boys was mildly provocative. With titles such as “I Kissed A Girl,” small yellow sweat stains began to appear on the collar of Middle America, but nothing to inspire mass record burnings or anti-girl kissing rallies. Whereas Lady Gaga seems to have reached a certain social status indicative of her stance on gay issues, Katy Perry represents what the normal person would expect of a female pop superstar: good times all around!
I’m on the record somewhere in the Vault’s deepest, darkest file cabinet as saying that “I Kissed A Girl,” and “Hot And Cold” were two of my favorite songs of the year upon their release. Both had that rebellious teen attitude, with massive hooks to boot. Sure, the rest of the record was hit-or-miss, but the sophomore follow-up became a record I couldn’t wait for.
Imagine my surprise/disappointment when I discovered that Teenage Dream failed to live up the potential I thought was sure to come for Perry. The attitude is the same, and the songs have a glorious pop sheen to them, but I honestly thought there was going to be more to the album. It’s not terrible by any stretch, but it’s another example of what happens when one remains in their comfort zone.
There’s something that people tend to forget about Elvis: he didn’t write most of his songs. All those classics? They were written by other talents that needed Elvis to imbue his talents into them. Katy Perry, as far as I can tell, does not have a writing credit anywhere to be found on Teenage Dream. I’m not going to be the one who bashes a young lady for not writing her own material; history has proven that it doesn’t matter. But what I will chastise her for is that she is the artist; therefore, she has control of what goes on or off a record. The decision to stand pat is more of a personal choice that is reinforced by others.
For the first four songs of Teenage Dream, the words I just wrote look terribly foolish. After completing that third of the album, it would seem Perry was going to deliver the pop record of the year. The simple, teenage escapist fantasies that have been popular since the days of Brian Wilson have been updated here in a genuine way. When Perry sings of taking chances and not looking back in the title track, she does really seem to mean it. Sure, “California Gurls” isn’t exactly subtle in its depiction of the women that inhabit LA, but subtlety isn’t Perry’s game. She exudes sexuality, and really there wasn’t a better single to demonstrate that.
A great deal of attention was drawn to “Firework” by Perry pre-release, and it was completely justified. While “California Gurls” was the better choice for a single, “Firework” is hands down the best track off the record. The production is simply stellar, surrounding Perry’s soaring vocals with orchestral flourishes and a strong, driving beat. There is a genuine positive message based off of Kerouac’s On The Road woven into the lyrics, and when you roll everything together, you get Perry’s best work.
But there are more than four tracks on a full-length album, and quite frankly to go from the brilliance that is “Firework” to the atrocity that is “Peacock” is jarring and leaves a bad taste. I mentioned the rebellious teen attitude before. “Peacock” is the equivalent of high school students working dirty words into their speech that the teacher is unfamiliar with. You want to know why this song was recorded? So Katy Perry could put the emphasis on the “COCK” part of the title. It’s playing to the absolute lowest common denominator, and should be an embarrassment.
Once my rage had subsided over that poor decision, there was the rest of the record to listen to. By the time “Not Like The Movies” came to a finish, I was bored. Bored in the same way that One Of The Boys made me feel. Considering that she is one of the hottest names in the music business today, Perry should have had a pick of the best songs available to her, so I’m at a loss to explain just how half the record ends up being bland reworkings of the songs that came before it. Yes, “E.T. (Futuristic Lover) manages to work itself into a rock song, but a rock song with what sounds like Kelly Clarkson on lead vocals. “Not Like The Movies” closes things out on a decent note, but by then the album has dragged on for too long.
Katy Perry has copious amounts of personality and legitimate talent, so it is not like she will be disappearing from the face of the earth any time soon. I’d still take Lady Gaga in a one-on-one battle for supremacy, but that’s not fair because the two try vastly different things. Teenage Dream has its moments where it reaches for the stars, but unfortunately it comes up short.