Before starting this review, I would like to congratulate Katy Perry on the birth of her new child and, encourage readers to click these links (Link one, Link two): both are donation links for charities that Katy personally supports and both are dedicated to protecting children.
Going into Katy Perry’s fifth studio album, I felt pretty confident I knew what to expect; with Perry having released almost half the songs from this album before it’s release. At times, this album sounds exactly like I had expected – and feared – it would; with ‘Champagne Problems’ and ‘Teary Eyes’ both being mechanical dance-pop tunes à la the title-track. However, with ‘Smile’, Perry proves she still has some surprises up her sleeve; with the ‘Teenage Dream’ singer venturing into the worlds of electro-pop, Tropical and even trap (!) music.
‘Smile’ begins with ‘Never Really Over’; the most commercially successful single from this album. While it’s an odd choice on Perry’s part to begin this album with a song about an ending (being “over”), this song is so damn good that it almost doesn’t matter. The lyrical content in this song – which, on it’s surface, would seem to depict a pretty typical post-break up experience – could actually be seen as having a hidden meaning: the experience of not being able to come to grips with something being “over” could reflect Perry’s attempts to come to terms with no longer dominating the pop industry.
However, the problem with starting an album with a song as good as ‘Never Really Over’ is that you then have to follow it up with something equally good or better; which Perry fails to do on ‘Cry About It Later’; a generic, uninspired track whose lyrics lack both subtlety and depth. Worse still, Perry follows ‘Cry About It Later’ with a similarly disappointing track: ‘Teary Eyes’. ‘Teary Eyes’ – which includes the lyric “Wanna run like your mascara” – marks the first, but certainly not the last time Perry employs cliched metaphors on this album (see also: the lyrics “I know there’s gotta be rain if I want the rainbow” on ‘Resilient’). The track underlines a key weakness of Perry’s that is evident throughout this album: she still lags behind her peers in terms of lyrical prowess.
That said, the good thing about an album like this – that has both intense highs and lows – is that as soon as a track like ‘Cry About It Later’ and ‘Teary Eyes’ comes on, you don’t have to wait too long to hear something significantly better. This is seen in fourth track – and album highlight – ‘Daisies’: which is less generic and lyrically cringe-worthy than other tracks on this album, and is the first track on this album where Perry fully utilises her powerhouse vocals.
However, ‘Daises’ is yet another fleeting high-point on an album whose quality is inconsistent to say the least. As soon as ‘Daisies’ is over, we get to listen to ‘Resilient’; an inoffensive, but forgettable addition to the track-listing that feels unfinished.
Fortunately, after ‘Resilient’, this album becomes less disconcertingly inconsistent; sure, we never again reach the giddy highs of ‘Never Really Over’, but we also never again reach lull points like ‘Resilient’. After the aforementioned ‘Resilient’, we reach ‘Not The End of the World’; which is both the most interesting and promising track on this album, but also the most obviously flawed. Despite featuring some mediocre lyricism (“You can take a frown, turn it all the way around”) and a regrettable interpolation of Steam’s ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’, this track is still packed with potential.
‘Not The End of the World’ – which I have a sneaking suspicion will become a fan favourite – see’s Perry taking surprise inspiration from trap music and offering a killer beat that breathes much needed life into this album at it’s halfway point. While it’s far from perfect, I really hope Perry continues to make more music in this vain in the future.
After ‘Not The End of the World’, we have ‘Smile’; a somewhat generic dance-pop track that was a somewhat odd choice for a single. There are other tracks on the second half of this album which also suffer from being somewhat generic (‘Champagne Problems’, ‘Tucked’), but they are still significantly more enjoyable and repeat-worthy than the title track.
The trio of songs this album ends on – ‘Harleys In Hawaii’, ‘Only Love’, ‘What Makes A Woman’ – form the best trio of songs at any point in this album. ‘Harleys In Hawaii’ is an undeniably catchy, Tropical track, co-produced by Charlie Puth, whose lyrics are admittedly basic, but never cringey. Then ‘Only Love’ – an album highlight – is a moving ballad (with a twist), that shines with good lyricism and emotional potency. It is also the most cleanly produced track on this album, and should definitely be the next single off this album. Meanwhile, ‘What Makes A Woman’ is a touching, country-inspired track, whose lyrical content occasionally misses, but mostly hits, and whose biggest sin is having slightly too much reverb.
“Oh I’d call my mother and tell her I’m sorryThe lyrics of ‘Only Love’s’ chorus
I never call her back
I’d pour my heart and soul out into a letter
And send it to my dad
Like, oh my God, the time I’ve wasted
Lost in my head
Let me leave this world with the hate behind me
And take the love instead”
Ultimately, ‘Smile’ is a change of direction for Perry; moving away from the EDM-influence of ‘Witness’ and back towards the pure-pop of her previous albums. At the ten-year anniversary of ‘Teenage Dream’, Perry is still finding her ground as a musician. On ‘Smile’ she explores multiple different musical directions – country-pop, trap-pop, disco – without ever fully committing to one or the other. ‘Smile’ proves that the Katy Perry of old is not yet gone, but that her best days may still lie ahead.
Best Tracks: ‘Never Really Over’, ‘Daisies’, ‘Tucked’, ‘Only Love’
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