Katy Perry, “Prism” (Capitol)
Perry and her gaggle of producers go “spiritual”? That was the advance word on the follow-up to one of the most commercially successful albums of the last decade.
On 2010’s “Teenage Dream,” Perry and her song-massagers, including teen-pop wizard Max Martin, went for girls-gone-wild escapades and hit it big. The album produced five No. 1 singles and sold more than 5 million copies worldwide with its mix of high-energy electro-pop and big ballads. “Prism” sticks with a similar approach but adds a layer of singer/songwriter introspection. The songs loosely chronicle the break-up of Perry’s marriage to Russell Brand and how she bounced back from a depression so deep that she contemplated suicide.
Not that the cartoonish persona of “Teenage Dream” has been completely erased. “International Smile” echoes the hit “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” and “This is How We Do” finds Perry celebrating the over-indulgences of the over-indulged.
As genre exercises go, the horn-flecked “Birthday” and house-fueled “Walking on Air” both qualify as catchy pop tunes. “Legendary Lovers” strikes a mystical Eastern vibe, and “Unconditionally” is the type of ballad just begging to be played over schmaltzy wedding scenes in movies.
The main attraction for the celebrity-obsessed are the songs in which Perry learns to live without Brand. Beware the attack of the self-empowerment bromides. There is “Roar,” the goofy self-help anthem with a jungle theme.
Because of the tightly wound arrangements, Perry’s big voice becomes more of a sonic ornament than an expressive instrument on many of her songs. But “Ghost” — which describes the day Brand declared he was divorcing her in a text message — and “By the Grace of God” allow her vulnerability to seep through. “It Takes Two” gives Perry room to stretch out in a pop-soul setting.
Though not exactly spiritual, “Prism” does come off as a more serious – if no less formulaic — album than its predecessor. But being taken seriously may be Perry’s greatest challenge yet.
Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
The Head and the Heart, “Let’s Be Still” (Sub Pop)
Now that we’re a few years into the pickin’-and-grinnin’ takeover of U.S. top-40, the world’s vintage-clad pop acts are figuring out where to go next. The Seattle combo the Head and the Heart opens up a bit on “Let’s Be Still,” its first since 2009’s surprise self-titled hit, proving there is life after banjos for these bands.
The now-seasoned group finds a few new ways to elaborate on its makeout-ready mountain music. The band pads its juke-hall country with Roxy Music synths on “Summer Time,” and “Homecoming Heroes” has a bit of Elliott Smith’s major-to-minor chord quirks.
Some tracks, such as “Shake,” hew a little close to the Mumford-led formula. But “Cruel” has a clear melody and strong enough delivery to almost make a play at mainstream country radio. Sometimes the best way for a band to move forward is to do something entirely expected — write a solid song and play it well.
The Head and the Heart performs Saturday and Sunday at First Avenue in Minneapolis.
August Brown, Los Angeles Times