KATY Perry's Teenage Dream was perfect pop pleasantry, full of hits that were oh-so-fun and addictive, fused with humour, emotion and a hint of edge. How could you resist?
Perry has some of that energy on her third album Prism, which comes three years after her breakthrough, but lacks some of the fiery fierceness and excitement that dominated Teenage Dream. The singer's new electro-pop songs are likable, but she's playing it safe. The songs don't drip with emotion and she rarely gets deep. Prism is Perry as plain Jane.
Prism was primarily written and produced with her frequent collaborators and hitmakers Max Martin, Dr. Luke and Bonnie McKee, but they don't always bring out the best: International Smile is cheesy and Legendary Lovers is forgettable.
Her team fares better on the sultry and upbeat Birthday and Dark Horse, which works thanks to its mesh of Southern hip-hop and electronic flavours.
When Perry borders on changing up her sound and taking some risks, she is best. The irresistible deep house track Walking on Air is a shining effort, while the bonus track Spiritual, co-written with beau John Mayer, is a groovy highlight.
Part of the problem with Prism is it doesn't showcase much of Perry's personality -- instead she comes off like a pop-tart robot. She's busy keeping up with radio and others, and not creating her own lane. Prism is enough to keep Perry on the charts, but it's time to think outside of the Billboard. **1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: Birthday
-- Mesfin Fedadu, The Associated Press
Dead Language (New Damage)
HARD-TOURING rockers the Flatliners have taken their Richmond Hill "punk" sound to the world over the last 10-plus years, and if they were to completely stop the whole show right now, Dead Language would be a fitting epitaph. The raucous quartet, the lineup unchanged since its formation in 2002, trades on twin-guitar heroics built on a slamming rhythm section and a singer who sounds like he swallows rusty razor blades and rinses with gasoline on a regular basis.
Don't let that frighten you off, though -- these guys have a pretty good handle on their high-energy sound and as much as it may lean toward the generic and the great hooks get your attention after multiple listenings.
What sets these lads apart from their contemporaries even further is their lyrics. They tend to slide a bit toward the gloomy edge of the world view, but within the darkness are little candles lit with some kind of edgy comprehension. "It all got away from me this morning, disappeared under my skin, a ghost, a sober warning, I know I'm growing cold," reads like a slice of beat poetry, and when it's charged from underneath by choppy guitars and a bashing rhythm section, Drown In Blood makes its point splendidly.
You will be singing along, too, after the first few times through this sonic blizzard. Singer Chris Cresswell's hellacious holler wears thin after a while, but if he can survive singing everything this way, then we can at least try and understand the language he's speaking. ***
DOWNLOAD THIS: Sew My Mouth Shut
-- Jeff Monk
Lightning Bolt (Monkeywrench)
PEARL Jam was always the most classic-rock-connected of the early 1990s grunge bands. True, the Eddie Vedder-led crew can still come at you with punked-up fury, as on Getaway and Mind Your Manners, the two lead tracks on the band's 10th studio album, but for all the frequent torment heard in Vedder's baritone, the band has always been about sustaining itself and its connection to its audience in a way their celebrated contemporaries Nirvana could not.
Lightning Bolt delivers its share of primal force, coming on strong with the hard-riffing Mind Your Manners and the winning title track before settling back for a mellower-groove second half. The shimmering Pendulum is a standout, the bluesy Let the Records Play is a misstep and Swallowed Whole the requisite fanboy nod to The Who.
Not a classic or, God forbid, an attempt at reinvention, just another rock-solid addition to a still-productive career. ***1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: Mind Your Manners
-- Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Joe Fiedler's Big Sackbut
Sackbut Stomp (Multiphonics Music)
EVERYONE can conjure Roger Miller's trademark King of the Road (whether by design or misfortune), but not the reconstituted version by the low-brass quartet Big Sackbut on its sophomore recording -- three trombones and a tuba make the pop song sound like it could be accompanying a New Orleans funeral march.
Trombonist Joe Fiedler chose 8 Page Bible because it allowed each trombonist (including Luis Bonilla and Ryan Keberle) to play unaccompanied before their solos. Fiedler's arrangement of Tin Tin Deo is a showcase for guest Steven Bernstein on slide trumpet.
Marcus Rojas, tuba meister, is great throughout the nine-track disc, but especially on Feet and Breathe, a high-powered Fiedler composition. Everybody cooks, but it's Rojas whose swinging bass line keeps things moving.
Keberle steps out on The Schlep and the collective wraps up the album brilliantly with Fiedler's Solo for Quartet.
Great playing and great writing and arranging by Fiedler (whose day job is as a music director and arranger for Sesame Street) make this low brass high class. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: Feet and Breathe
-- Chris Smith
THIS WEEK'S SINGLES
Rap God (Aftermath/Interscope)
Not to be outdone by Kanye's I Am a God, Slim Shady is here to proclaim his supreme divinity too. Does he succeed? Well, not quite. There are some genuinely awesome moments here, including a dizzyingly extended rap so rapid fire you may need to actually slow it down to fully understand what's being said. Unfortunately, dated references to Monica Lewinsky (really?) and some pretty blatant gay-bashing bring down the proceedings. Not to mention, clocking in at over six minutes, the droning electro beat becomes fairly monotonous after a while. **1/2
Lady Gaga feat. R. Kelly
Do What U Want (Interscope)
Telling R. Kelly to "do what you want with my body" might not be the wisest of decisions. Pervy advances aside, the latest promo single from Gaga's upcoming ARTpop album is a sexy, satisfying blend of electro-pop and R&B complete with some very Giorgio Moroder-sounding synths and growly vocals that would make Christina Aguilera proud. ***1/2
Paris Hilton feat. Lil' Wayne
Good Time (Cash Money/Republic)
Trying to constructively review a Paris Hilton song is kind of like trying to constructively review a four-year-old's drawing on the refrigerator. The lyrics are completely embarrassing and utterly dreadful (Lil' Wayne's guest rap included). Very little actually rhymes, it's entirely asinine, it might as well be a Rebecca Black song. On the plus side, Afrojack's chilly trance production is excellent. An instrumental version would be appreciated. **
-- reviewed by Steve Adams