The sophomore album from Katy Perry does everything the singles promise it to. It pops, and it pops big. “California Gurls” was far from what I expected when I heard about new Katy Perry. Something about that particular chord progression (think Ke$ha's “Tik Tok,” Kylie's “Love At First Sight,” and Madonna's “Get Together”) really draws me in. Perhaps the rest of the world feels the same way, which would explain how “California Gurls” became such a massive hit. The track was electronic and effervescent, proving that there is plenty of room in the pop world for Perry, Ke$ha, Gaga, and all of those other wacky female artists. The video showed a more (if possible) polished Perry, playing as a character in a perverse and twisted candy land where gummy bears have attitudes and whipped cream canister bras are the solutions to all wars. The follow up single, “Teenage Dream,” is another slice of pop perfection. This track centers around love and feeling good, feelings most of us have felt, with a guitar-based pop production that is instantly familiar and welcome. Both tracks feel somehow like sequels of the singles from One of the Boys, but at the same time a progression. Which means that, within the first two singles from Teenage Dream, Katy Perry has already done what she set out to do: create a sophomore album that doesn't stray too far from what made fans love her in the first place.
I want to give Perry credit, and at the same time I don't want to. She is as much a gear in the pop machine as much as her writers and producers are, as much as Britney and her team is. Point in fact is the inclusion of Snoop Dogg in “California Gurls.” That track is stellar without him, doesn't require him to be entertaining, and in some places the non-rap version is heard on the radio instead. How much involvement did Perry really have in including Snoop in the mix? In defense of the choice to use Snoop, he fits well with the electronic genre as witnessed in his work with Robyn. What sets Perry apart is that she is a risque, raven-haired beauty that seems All-American and yet what parents don't want their daughters to be. With equal candor she sings about realizing your self worth (“Firework”) with swirls of symphonic melody, and then in the next moment pleads with a man to unveil his “Peacock” to the beat of bleacher stomps and handclaps. This can definitely be an intentional move on Perry's part, or part of a sales plan created by a manager or specialist to make Perry more marketable to varying demographics. Regardless of whose actual initiative it was, the results are above average. The same cannot be said of the contrast between “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” which could be considered “Waking Up In Vegas” in it's lyrical recounting of events she didn't remember, and “Circle The Drain.” “Circle The Drain” is a rather dark and poignant song describing her attempts to urge her man to give up drugs and focus on their relationship.
“Last Friday Night” comes across as cheeky and non-committal, while “Circle The Drain” is aggressive and harsh, and her conviction in the latter track overwhelms just about any other track on Teenage Dream.
Most of Teenage Dream is aimed at making you feel good. The album isn't really intended to be serious, nor is it intended to be taken that way. Katy just wants you to have fun. So when the production on most of the tracks is similar to the mainstream dance/pop environment, it is a calculated move to tap into what will allow Perry to sell more. The one downside to this move is that the album begins to get stale about two-thirds of the way in. “The One That Got Away” truly sounds like a more boring version of “Teenage Dream.” The production is a little more tedious, the lyrics are a little more forgettable. And by the point “E.T.” comes on, it is hard to really pay attention to it. Which is sad because “E.T.” is a deliciously dark slice of electronica that deserves to be heard. But sandwiched between “The One That Got Away” and the truly dull “Who Am I Living For,” it is easier to skip by all three. Even “Hummingbird Heartbeat,” which sounds like an 80s hair metal anthem (including the easy-to-sing chorus), sadly falls a bit short of the mark. It is fun but doesn't scream “Replay me over and over!” “Pearl” is a curious track that requires more than one listen to appreciate. Perry's performance is a bit heavy for the light and ponderous production, but you may find yourself singing along if the first listen doesn't put you off entirely.
This is until you are walloped with the beauty of “Not Like The
Movies.” This is the type of pensive piano ballad you'd expect from
Terra Naomi or Charlotte Martin, not from the hyper-charged Katy
Perry. In the track, Perry laments that reality doesn't match what she
sees in films, and it is possibly the most moving track she has put
out on any album. The song grows in insistency, going from simple
piano to a full orchestra. “Not Like The Movies” is perfectly planted
on the album, even if everything between it and “Circle the Drain”
wasn't intended to be less than stellar, it really re-captivates you.
Some versions of Teenage Dream come with additional remixes.
Definitely keep your eyes peeled for them because they are interesting
takes on the original material. The copy I received contains a Passion
Pit remix of “California Gurls” which played like an electro/freestyle
parody of itself. Contained also is a Kaskade mix of “Teenage Dream”
which pretty much does as would be expected. Kaskade typically adds an
anthemic edge to tracks he remixes, giving them a heavy dose of bass
and beats and this holds true for “Teenage Dream.”