Add to playlist: ‘Never Really Over’, ‘Cry About It Later’, ‘Tucked’
Humbled by the hostile reception to 2017’s mildly experimental Witness, Katy Perry plays to her strengths on fifth album Smile.
These twelve new songs chronicle the singer’s journey to finding her smile again, and address the clinical depression that followed her commercial wobbles with surprising candour, as illustrated by the ‘sad clown’ character Katy has adopted for the era.
While this is ripe material for more empowerment anthems à la ‘Firework’ and ‘Roar’, Smile doesn’t abandon the coquettish streak that launched her to superstardom with ‘I Kissed A Girl’. The result is a delightful pick’n’mix of sounds, guided by themes of resilience and gratitude.
‘Had a piece of humble pie / That ego check saved my life’, Katy half-raps on the title track, a strident, horn-driven salute to shifting priorities, built on an interpolation of ‘Jamboree’ by Naughty By Nature. Bizarrely, early vinyl pressings include a superior edit featuring Diddy.
Many factors played into Katy’s 2017 backlash. Some were petty (would it have even happened if she hadn’t dismantled her pin-up image?) but it didn’t help that Witness was severely lacking in the carefree uptempos that were once Katy’s speciality.
Almost by way of apology, the record opens with a one-two-three punch of pop perfection: last May’s ‘Never Really Over’, the melancholic 80s synthpop of ‘Cry About It Later’, and the European house of ‘Teary Eyes’.
Dance bops will woo the gays, but Katy needs the soccer moms back on side too, so Smile is obliged to lean into Adult Contemporary with mixed results.
‘Daisies’ is a dreamy folk-pop number about following your dreams. The sparse arrangement of ‘Resilient’ clashes with an intense vocal. On the beautiful, gospel-inspired ‘Only Love’, Katy shares how she would spend her last day on Earth: ‘I’d call my mother and tell her I’m sorry / I never call her back / I’d pour my heart and soul out into a letter / and send it to my dad.’
Smile might be a little too content to rehash the winning pop formula of Teenage Dream – which celebrates its 10th anniversary this week – but the fact that Katy Perry can pull it off without that record’s sonic architects Dr. Luke and Max Martin is certainly worth smiling about.