Cultural observers have written about the concept of prolonged adolescence--young adults who, for various reasons (extended education, living with parents, single carefree lifestyles), haven't yet "grown up." With Teenage Dream, her second major album, Katy Perry establishes herself as the poster child for prolonged adolescence, taking us through a carefree romp of drinking, flirting, and partying with hardly an adult consequence in sight.
We've already heard the album's two best tracks: the explosive title track that iTunes tells me I've managed to listen to 33 times in just over a month, and the massive summer smash "California Gurls," which let the world know that young Californian females prefer to dress in "daisy dukes; bikinis on top." Perry's not been a teenager herself for 7 years, but you'd never know it from these hits. Sandwiched between them is the rather banal "Last Fright Night (TGIF)," an ode to partying so serious that it leads to blackouts, embarrassing Facebook pictures and even an arrest warrant. Despite that, it ends with the promise that this Friday night, Katy and her pals will "do it all again." Alrighty girls. I do admire the song's effort to bring back the middle 8 saxophone solo.
After this strong opening, the album goes downhill pretty fast, from a few more songs of mild interest, to quite a few that are just...well, dull. Dance pop track "Firework" has a cool strings arrangement, but an unfortunately annoying chorus that Perry manages to really over-sing. "Peacock" manages to be even more absurd than "TGIF," consisting of Perry begging for some guy to show her his [title track minus "pea"]. Right. Rocking "Circle in the Drain" is the album's attempt at some seriousness, with Perry confronting some guy who's thrown his life down the drain. It's actually quite dark and doesn't really fit.
Lyrically, Perry's got some pretty odd metaphors going here. "E.T." has a pretty solid beat, but comparing sexual chemistry to alien abduction that is downright "extra-terrestrial" is a bit much. "Hummingbird Heartbeat" is even nuttier--saying some guy's so hot he makes Perry's heart flutter like a hummingbird, which an ornithologist could tell you is 23 times per second. Poor Perry's headed for a heart attack. The album reaches its lowest point with "Who Am I Living For?" and "Pearl," which I just don't find very interesting.
"The One that Got Away" is a pretty decent, upbeat song that looks back on Perry's real teenage years with nostalgia, reminiscing about listening to Radiohead and getting "matching tattoos." This could make a good single if they want to go for something a little sweeter. Like the album's first two hits, this one is produced by Swedish mastermind producer Max Martin and his American buddy Dr. Luke. The album is chockablock full of big-name producers, including Stargate and Tricky Stewart. Greg Wells helms the album's closing number, "Not Like the Movies," which is a lovely piano number and the album's only slow song. Despite its cliched lyrics, it's a nice ballad to end the set.
I'm disappointed by this album, which I found to be quite mediocre. While it has some great pop songs, as a whole, it falls short. Perry's songs may sound great in a iPod mix, but all strung together they highlight her shortcomings, namely her perchance for tasteless, cliched lyrics. I fully expect Teenage Dream to keep delivering some hits, but I bet they'll be more enjoyable on their own.
Best: Teenage Dream, California Gurls, The One that Got Away