KATY PERRY REVIEWS:
One of the Boys (2008)
Album Score: 10
Occasionally, I like to review what's currently at the top of the pop charts. When I do such a thing, the only time I'm actually surprised is when I fail to get annoyed. But Katy Perry's One of the Boys brings that to a whole new level: I actually liked it. Quite a lot. Considering the target demographic for the album is girls around the ages of 12 and 14, this is gearing up to be the biggest surprise of the decade.
She did have a lot of things going in her favor. Firstly, she writes all her own songs, which gives away that she is actually a self-made pop singer instead of the manufactured pseudo-pop-star like Britney Spears, Hillary Duff and Miley Cyrus. I read that the record company had no idea how to market her, which could indicate that she's interesting. However, by far the most appealing thing about Perry of them all is that she managed to piss off both conservative talk show hosts and gay/lesbian activists. This is the first time I ever heard of that happening. Therefore, I concluded, this must be worth hearing!
Sure, it was produced for the benefit of 12-14 girls, and that's a major strike against it, but a number of these songs are hugely entertaining. Their melodies are apt to dwell in my mind after I turn them off (and in the good way). “One of the Boys” starts the album on an incredibly positive note. Although I'm not incredibly optimistic for the first thirty seconds when it's rather similar to a bland, annoying thing that Hillary Duff would sing ....... But it grows on me fiercely once the chorus pops up. She belts out an energetic, soaring vocal performance with a dash of playfulness, and that bubblegum melody is so fresh and catchy that it's impossible for me to think anything bad about it... and I really wouldn't want to.
The second track was the big hit, “I Kissed a Girl,” that managed to bring together (in spirit) the conservative talk show hosts and the gay and lesbian activists. The only thing these polar opposites have in common is their lack of a sense of humor, and you really need one to fully appreciate the song. ...Though I'll tell you that I had a pretty negative reaction to it at first. Not to the lyrics, but to the song itself. The whole thing is overproduced and rather ugly; drum beat was taken from a Gary Glitter track and her vocal performance sounded too manufactured and tweeny. But, after awhile, I got used to it, and started to appreciate that the melody was infectious as hell. And I do actually like the lyrics. They're very juvenile, of course, but that's not a bad thing if they're done well. I find these lyrics to be direct, non-cliched, and they rhyme well. It's just a shame that they're so youth-corrupting... “Ur So Gay” is the other song that caused a stir, but that one comes off as incredibly endearing to me. The melody has more good, original hooks in it than it has any right to have; the lyrics are very juvenile, but they're funny. Excellent song.
It was a tough battle, but “Lost” wins as my favorite song of the album. A good indication of how good a songwriter is, it seems, is how well ballads are handled, if they're even attempted. Well, it was a massive success here. “Lost” succeeds in being an atmospheric, twinkly thing with a beautiful melody, captivating harmonies and a stirring vocal performance. I wouldn't have known it was on a tweener album if I didn't know better. “I'm Still Breathing” is lesser but still a remarkably captivating ballad. Twice in one album. That's worth something.
My overwhelming praise was mostly just a response to the unfair reviews I have read (Slant Magazine, especially, is full of donkey doodoo)... so now's the time to say that a number of these songs fall off the mark. There's nothing memorable at all about “Waking Up in Vegas;” it's just faceless. Making it worse, Perry's vocal styling mimics Alanis Morrisette, which is a bad idea for many reasons. She's aping Sarah McLachlan in “Thinking of You,” which also served as part of that song's downfall (although she did a pretty good job of it). I think the lesson of this is that she should just keep those powerful chops of hers intact. She has to mute them too much to sing like those two. Yes, her voice doesn't have any real distinguishing features, and she understandably would wish that they did... but she can sing loudly, she has good vocal range (two or three octaves). If she continues to write good songs, her voice won't matter much anyway. At least they don't rely on machines to make them sound fake like they do on so many other pop albums these days. That's refreshing.
To conclude, I'm still a little surprised that I found something on top of the pop charts actually worth listening to. I can't say that everyone would share my opinion; there's enough off-putting about the production that would make people allergic to pop music to break out in hives. But all of this negative press and bad reviews are completely unwarranted. And these are the people who issued glowing reviews to Madonna's Music! (One music reviewer even, apparently, had Perry confused with Zooey Deschanel. Yeah, music critics are idiots, but I will admit there is a resemblance.)
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Teenage Dream (2010)
Album Score: 6
Should I have seen this coming? I listened to One of the Boys a few years ago on a whim, and I was surprised by how good it was: Many of its songs were fresh and vibrant, many of its melodies were memorable, and some of the lyrics were hilarious. ...But what happened here? The freshness is completely gone and so is the personality. These songs are stale, stale, stale. The songs being touted as singles such as “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls” are well-written but ultimately forgettable, and if those are the best this album has to offer, then we're in a heap of trouble. (Or at least I am, since I'm the one forcing myself to listen to it. Stupid me.)
Because when this album gets bad, it gets baaaaaaaad. Maybe I should emphasize that: IT GETS *****BAAAAAAAAAAD*****. Don't you believe me? Do you remember that one Lady Gaga song where she was talking about wanting “to take a ride on your disco stick?” Katy Perry does a song like that, except she “wants to see your peacock-cock-cock-cock-cock.” Alright, maybe that's kind of funny, but unfortunately the instrumentation is about as obnoxious as it could possibly get. They combine the drum rhythm of Toni Basil's “Mickey” with some ordinarily dull high-pitched synthesizers. Whenever Perry isn't chanting “cock” and she's actually singing something, her vocal melody couldn't possibly be less interesting. In short, the song is a train wreck. I mean, this is almost as bad as a t.A.T.u. song.
But as I said, “Teenage Dream” isn't an awful mid-tempo pop tune. The melody is fine, and Perry sings much of it sweetly in the higher register of her vocals. The instrumentation doesn't do much to thrill me, but generally, the build-up to the relatively catchy chorus is well appreciated. “California Gurls” is quite decent as well... It's basically the same thing as “Teenage Dream” except the drum beat is more monotonous. Snoop Dog raps a bit through it, but I hardly notice him, because he adds nothing to the melody. ...If there is anything more useless than mainstream rappers, then it's mainstream rappers who have guest spots on pop albums...
What is the deal with these drum machines, anyway? Couldn't they think of anything better than simple “boom-thwack, boom-thwack, boom-thwack” patterns? Listening to a song like “The One That Got Away” makes me want to make a golden statue of Phil Collins and start worshiping it. I mean, say what you want about Collins, but that man knew how to program a drum machine. Whoever did the drum machines on this album I doubt could even program a VCR. But to get more positive in this paragraph, I like the song called “Circle the Drain” with its driving disco rhythm, and Perry uses her chops in such a powerful way that it really soars over it. She sounds like a suitable dance diva there. Its pop melody still isn't that great, which is a shame, but in this album I kind of have to take all that I can get.
The first half of the album was more or less passable, but the last half is pretty grim. “E.T.” is almost as obnoxious as “Peacock.” But instead of stealing the drum rhythm from “Mickey,” she steals the rhythm from Queen's “We Will Rock You.” ...I mean, if you're going to steal these caveman rhythms, couldn't she at least make them fun? What good is brute music if it's not fun? Her songs are making me claustrophobic. “Who Am I Living For?” isn't so much bad as it is boring. Seriously, whatever happened to the gleeful playfulness that used to emanate out of Perry's songs like rays of sunshine? “Pearl” and “Hummingbird Heartbeat” are also boring. Arrgghhhh.
She even does a terrible piano ballad with “Not Like the Movies,” which closes the album. She fashioned it to be “sensitive,” or something, except the melody is boring, and the lyrics are stupid. (“Snow White said when I was young / One day my prince will come / So I wait for that date / They say it's hard to meet your match / Gotta find my better half / So we make perfect shapes / If stars don't align, if it doesn't stop time / If you can't see the sign, wait for it / One hundred percent, with every penny spent / He'll be the one that finishes your sentences.”) Arrrrghhhhhhhh.
In short, I wouldn't bother with this. It's true that I liked her debut album, which was a fun, fresh, and catchy pop album, but this follow-up is boring and occasionally obnoxious. ...It has a few decent songs, which means this is hardly the worst album I've ever heard, but seriously... Lady Gaga makes albums better than this. Even Britney Spears makes better albums than this. ...BRITNEY SPEARS!!!! ...I'll give you a moment to let that soak in.
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