"Aphrodite" wins the award for my most anticipated album of 2010 but "Teenage Dream" comes a very close second. Which is strange because until recently I just wasn't that into Katy Perry. I loved "One Of The Boys" and stuck up for pop's favourite former christian when the gays of blogland accused her of homophobia for recording "I Kissed A Girl" but she never really rocked my world. I guess I always thought of her as the new and improved Avril Lavigne - with better hair and a slightly less grating voice. But then the songs from "Teenage Dream" started to leak and it became increasingly apparent that Katy was in the process of re-inventing herself yet again. The faux rock chick had been replaced by a fully fledged pop star complete with a new image that miraculously walks the line between girl next door (if she were a 50s pin up) and Ke$ha-tastic party slut. I'm amazed by how readily fans have embraced the new Katy Perry but I guess it doesn't hurt that "California Gurls" and the title track represent the best one, two punch in pop since Gaga followed "Just Dance" with "Poker Face".
With the bar set so high, you can't help but wonder if the rest of the album is going to match the same lofty standards. And at first listen I thought that "Teenage Dream" fell a bit short. The mix of genres is a bit jarring at first and I struggled to reconcile the sweetness of "Not Like The Movies" with Katy's classy dick flashing anthem "Peacock". But with time I've come to think of "Teenage Dream" as a concept album of sorts. It looks at adolescence from a lot of different angles - from the immature and debauched to the sweet and hopeful. As a body of work, it doesn't always flow seamlessly ("Circle The Drain" and "Who Am I Living For?" sound completely out of place) but it's hugely enjoyable and there are at least another 5 or 6 singles just waiting to wreak havoc on the charts. Like it or not, Katy Perry has delivered one of the year's best pop albums and moved up the ladder from being B List to a veritable chart superstar. Here is my track by track review:
The opening track and second single is an irresistible slice of nostalgia that works its way further into your brain every time you hear it on the radio. I love the sweet lyrics ("I finally found you, my missing puzzle piece") and ridiculously catchy chorus. Katy isn't the world's most versatile vocalist but she manages to sound softer and less affected on this. A lot of credit has to go to the producers. Max Martin, Dr Luke and Benny Blanco also re-invent themselves on "Teenage Dream". After churning out about 35 songs that sound like rejects from Pink's "I'm Not Dead" album (Hello, Adam Lambert!), they finally come up with something fresh and different. The video isn't too shabby either.
Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)
Ok, let's get it out of the way. America's first lady of pop called and wants her act back. I'm convinced "Last Friday Night" was stolen from the box of old demos Ke$ha keeps next to her glitter gun and crate of black market Jack Daniels. This hot jam sounds like it was lifted straight from "Animal" - particularly when Katy says damn! - but that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you're going to jack someone's swagga it might as well be someone good. And Ke$ha is the reigning Queen of US pop, so kudos for having taste. Despite the blatant thievery, there's no denying that "Last Friday Night" is a killer song that should be released as a single sooner rather than later. The lyrics always bring a smile to my face and Max Martin deserves a Grammy for reviving the 80s Sax solo. It gets me everytime! This is the next "I Gotta Feeling" so just get used to it. You'll be hearing "Last Friday Night" 20 times a weekend for the next year or two.
There is something painfully contrived about the album's lead single. It sounds like it was put together in a laboratory by a group of scientists hired to create a surefire #1 smash hit with complete disregard for creativity and humour. And yet I don't give a shit. I know it's as fake and artificial as fairy floss but that doesn't make it any less camp and delicious. Sure, "California Gurls" is getting a bit old now but I still get the urge to turn it up every time it comes on the radio. That chorus is more addictive than heroin and I still get a kick out of Snoop rapping about wieners. A modern classic that will be dragged out at school formals and weddings for the next twenty or thirty years.
Easily the best song on the album, "Firework" is already locked in as Katy's next single and it should follow the previous two straight to the top of the charts. I must have given this anthem 50 spins over the past week and I still love it more each time I hear it. There's something genuinely uplifting about the lyrics and I love the move towards dance-pop. It's a new sound for both the artist and producers. Stargate have a bad reputation for recycling beats and writing the same mid-tempo urban pop jam for everyone but this is completely new territory for them. The chorus is an absolute monster and I love the way the synths keep building until the end of the song. Utterly irresistible.
You know, I hated "Peacock" the first time I heard it. This trash just seemed beneath Katy. Low brow pretenders like Britney need songs like "If U Seek Amy" to keep their less than intelligent fanbase interested but Ms Perry doesn't need controversy to stay relevant. She just needs to crash high school formals. But I digress. After a couple of listens I found myself humming along and I do love a bit of filth. Now it's one of my favourite songs on the album and I've already played it for someone as the world's least subtle hint. LOL! The verse where Katy finally sees her man's equipment cracks me up every time - "Oh my god, no exaggeration. All this time was worth the waiting. I just shed a tear, I am so unprepared!" Modern poetry.
Circle The Drain
The album's only real stinker. Christopher 'Tricky' Stewart drags Katy kicking and screaming back to "One Of The Boys" on this dire rock song. It sounds completely out of place on "Teenage Dream" and quite simply, isn't very good. Apparently, the track is a dig at Travie McCoy. I'm sure he doesn't give a fuck either with "Billionaire" still sitting pretty in the top 10. Swap this rubbish with her fabulous Timbaland collaboration "If We Ever Meet Again".
The One That Got Away
I adore this cute little gem. Dr Luke and Max Martin join forces to write a disarmingly sweet song about lost love. Think of "The One That Got Away" as the sequel to"Teenage Dream" - when the protagonists grow up and find someone else to fuck. The emotions expressed in the song are universal and I love the heady mix of melancholy and nostalgia. I can almost see Katy's cheerleader's uniform and her boyfriend's football jacket. As usual with Max Martin & Co, the chorus is brilliant and the low key production successfully shows a different side of Katy. I would definitely put this forward for the 4th or 5th single. Radio would eat it up and the possibilities for the video are endless.
"E.T." leaked months ago as "Future Lovers". I liked it then and I like it even more now. This is the closest Katy gets to pure electro and unlike Christina Aguilera's desperate attempt to jump on that bandwagon, she actually pulls it off. The song takes a couple of listens but it is strangely hypnotic and I love the extended alien metaphor. Again this is big change of pace for Max Martin and Dr Luke, who seem to have kept all their best tracks for Katy. Every other diva in pop is currently spitting chips. Deal, bitches.
Who Am I Living For?
Much like "Circle The Drain", "Who Am I Living For?" is an epic fail that sounds like a reject from "One Of The Boys". Did someone give Tricky the wrong brief? I've swapped this with "Starstrukk" on my iTunes playlist.
Not my favourite song on "Teenage Dream" but Greg Wells' first contribution to the album is a grower. I like a good female empowerment anthem as much as the next gay and I'm sure downtrodden women and awkward teenagers around the globe will be pumping this on high volume as they curse their bad boyfriends and squeeze their pimples. Respectively. It is a little bit lame but I love the way Katy pronounces pearl as if she's coughing one up and the production is pretty. A satisfying album track.
Tricky redeems himself somewhat on "Hummingbird Heartbeart". It's a catchy slice of pop rock in the vein of "I Kissed A Girl" or "Waking Up In Vegas". I'm not sure about the opening line "You make me feel like I'm losing my virginity... every time you touch me" but it's an inoffensive little jam that manages to span the guitar heavy sound of "One Of The Boys" and Katy's new pop orientation. Again, not exactly single material but still worth a listen.
Not Like The Movies
I love this. "Teenage Dream" needed a good ballad and "Not Like The Movies" does nicely. It's a simple piano based affair with surprisingly tender lyrics. I actually love the sentiment of the song - that you need to stop waiting for Prince Charming and get your head out of the clouds. Making it one of the more realistic love songs I can remember hearing. Katy also manages to keep a lid on her sometimes grating vocals, which will please people who thought her last big ballad "Thinking Of You" was a crime against humanity. A fitting conclusion to a great pop album.