On new album “Witness”, Katy Perry works hard to earn attention

Katy Perry – Witness

It doesn’t matter where you were from,” Katy Perry told fans as she wound down her four-day Witness World Wide live-stream, “It matters what you grow into”. Considering she was born to Pentecostal pastors, Perry’s metamorphosis into the pin-up poster girl for the centre-left is one of pop’s most fascinating.

Perry won’t get the props she deserves for “Chained to the Rhythm” – whipping up woke-politics and rainbow reggae-disco to create a hit with a solid message. Lyrically, it’s a frown at individualism and a wink at social consciousness. Musically, it’s a fresh update of her sound.

Many will decry her album campaign’s narrative as divisive, but this being Katy Perry, Witness isn’t that complex. On “Chained…”, she spends half her time asking questions (“Are we tone-deaf?” – Katy, you in danger girl) and rhyming “bubble” with “trouble”.

Perry’s always been style-over-substance, and when you’ve got industry heavyweights (Max Martin, Mike Will Made It) and budding virtuosos (Jack Garrett, Purity Ring) on speed dial, that’s not a bad thing.

“Hey Hey Hey” is a feminist sandstorm with ropy lyrics delivered in a drunk-cheerleader drawl. It’s elevated by a grinding dubstep bassline and an up-yours appeal. Synthpop whizz-kids Purity Ring carve trance ballad “Bigger Than Me” – written after Hillary Clinton’s election defeat – like an ice sculpture.

From a distance, “Bigger Than Me”, “Swish Swish” featuring Nicki Minaj, and the unironically repetitive “Déjà Vu” echo the UK’s 2013 house revival. Of all the trends to draw from, it’s a durable one, but it does narrow the album’s commercial prospects.

Naturally, it’s when Perry does away with the flashy production that Witness really stumbles. The three ballads suffer from clunky phrasing (“I struggle / I juggle”), even when the choruses soar. That said, “Mind Maze” is a pristine take on The Knife circa Silent Shout, yet an utter bore melodically.

Witness occasionally excels in rethinking Perry’s creamy-tits brand of pop for 2017’s more subdued airwaves. “Tsunami” is a spongy bump-and-grind, making for a great one-two punch with the cherry-sweet banger “Bon Appétit”. “Roulette” spins the Tinder/Grindr experience (“I drop a pin to my location”) into an 80s-pop headrush.

Perry owes a debt to her guest stars, but the solo title track is a revelation. It’s the ideal intersection between her pop and ‘conscious’ selves – topping bubbling electronica and graceful piano with a hook of “Can I get a witness?” that begs for a response. As messy as Witness can be, songs like this show how Perry could conceivably earn one’s attention.

6.5/10

[Music] Nicki Minaj – The Pinkprint (review)

Niki Minaj

Available to buy on iTunes

Review: There was a delightfully abrasive moment during Nicki Minaj’s guest turn on Ciara’s 2014 single “I’m Out” where talk of “big fat titties when they’re hangin’ out my tank-top” unexpectedly scanned as an ideological move that only the Trinidadian rapper could make. There was nothing smart about the image the lyric created, while the slippery zaniness with which it was delivered rendered it deliberately unsexy. But with Minaj’s name now synonymous with the current hip-hop landscape, it seemed she had shrewdly adopted the cartoonish arrogance of buddies Lil Wayne, Kanye et al in a manner that was apathetic to their male gaze, with indecorous terms such as “fat” and “hanging” instead holding up a positive reflection of the wordsmith’s perceptible body image.

This crass and brazen expression of sexuality was somewhat built upon on “Anaconda”, the inescapable, Sir Mix-A-Lot-sampling summer hit that served as the The Pinkprint‘s second single. The difference this time was that everything about “Anaconda” – from its meme-magnet artwork to its risibly gratuitous video demanded both our attention and our approval. The track’s reliance on creeping guitar plucks and culturally-embedded lyrics derived from “Baby Got Back” was disappointing given the manic energy Minaj poured into verses that stand toe-to-toe with similarly globe-trotting accounts of sexual conquests in Afroman’s “Crazy Rap” and Lil Kim’s “How Many Licks”. The Pinkprint’s clever sequencing follows it up with the EDM headache “The Night Is Still Young”, allowing for an immediate comparison that narrowly spares “Anaconda” from being labeled the collection’s most reductive effort.

This conspicuous pair of chart-friendly contingency plans are undoubtedly the album’s nadir, as even despite additional smatterings of on-trend radio fodder – such as the “Dark Horse”-aping Dr. Luke production “Get On Your Knees”, boosted by a sensual vocal from hook girl Ariana Grande – The Pinkprint primarily divides its attention between introspective mid-tempo R&B and tough, focused exercises in trap-inflected hip-hop. It’s an occasionally jarring dichotomy, but the overarching quality of the music allows such sins to be forgiven. Giving credence to her alleged Enya inspiration, “All Things Go” and “I Lied” get things off to a slow, ethereal start, but the lack of posturing within Minaj’s sensitive verses is refreshing. The similarly styled “The Crying Game” has prickly rock undertones that help further animate Jessie Ware’s bizarrely uncredited turn on the song’s chorus.

On the ballsier half of the album, “Trini Dem Girls” proposes exoticism (“Jamaica dem girls gonna park the pum pum”) over a laudably colourless, handclap-heavy beat, “Four Door Aventador” casts a spell with its mumbled chorus and smoky atmosphere, while the pondering trap beat of third single “Only”, featuring Drake, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown, oscillates between mild interest and tedium depending on who’s on the mic. (Note: Both Drake and Lil Wayne are better utilised on the twerk-ready iTunes bonus track “Truffle Butter”.)

On The Pinkprint, Minaj has refined almost every branch of her musical output, with the notable exception of her adventures in EDM, which really should have been left to fester on 2010’s Roman Reloaded. Its quieter moments surpass the aural mush she peddled on her debut, while the lion’s share of the more overtly hip-hop tracks show a sense of conviction unseen since “Roman’s Revenge”. Our only gripe is with a title that stands as nothing more than a tip of the hat to Jay-Z‘s The Blueprint. Sure, every fingerprint may be unique, but shouldn’t a woman as talented as Minaj be looking to leave a bigger mark on the world?

8.5/10

[Music] Top Tracks of 2014, Part Two (#15 – #1)

Part One:

#20 – #11 // #10 – #1

Part Two:

#30 – #16

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15. Beyoncé – ***Flawless [Remix feat. Nicki Minaj], Beyoncé (Platinum Edition)

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 Available to buy on iTunes

After two solid minutes of unfettered bravado, Beyoncé says she wants “everyone to feel like this”, which is a fairly petrifying request depending on how receptive you are to the brand of masturbatory ego-tripping she co-opts from a guesting Nicki Minaj for the remix of one of the sprightlier joints from her self-titled fifth album. Granted, the shameless arrogance they display is probably healthier than the self-effacing greeting card sentiments we as music listeners have grown accustomed to, but as we’ve come to expect from Minaj, for every moderately witty remark (“This watch here done phase blizzards”) there’s always a landslide of misogyny (“These bitches washed up, and ain’t no fuckin’ soap involved”) and birdbrained materialism just around the corner.

The power of the original “***Flawless” – in which cocky verses (“Bow down, bitches!”) and the song’s more universal “Flawless” hook bookended an excerpt from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech “We should all be feminists” – wasn’t  lost in the rendering of this redux, hence its place on our list, but neither was it capitalised upon. A remix featuring the world’s leading female rapper should have provided a chance to streamline the track’s messy structure into something easier to canonise as a dance-floor staple; Bey’s failure to do so is either emblematic of a lack of confidence in the original song’s commercial appeal, or an over-confidence in her imperial stature in the music industry.

See also: Drunk In Love” [feat. Jay Z], “7/11

14. Rixton – Me and My Broken Heart, Let the RoadRixton-Main

Available to buy on iTunes

The combined talents of British soap star and housewife heartthrob Shane Richie and singer Colleen Nolan can be seen manifested within their cherub-faced son, Rixton frontman (or should that be frontboy?) Jake Roche. The electropop-rock charm of breakout single “Me and My Broken Heart” is indebted to Rob Thomas’ 2005 hit “Lonely No More”, with producers Benny Blanco (Maroon 5, Katy Perry) and Steve Mac (One Direction) adding just a pinch of lilting Fisher Price ska to the verses for flavour, and Roche emoting like a young Adam Levine whose been miraculously shorn of all shrillness.

And despite primarily being a plea for a one night stand,“Me and My Broken Heart” is still a whole lot more subtle than songs of a similar ilk purveyed by their peers; there’s no “Tonight lets get some / and live while were young!”-sized clunkers to be found here.

See also:Wait On Me

13. Hozier – Jackie And Wilson, Hozier

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Available to buy on iTunes

It’s impossible to deny the funereal force of the Grammy-nominated “Take Me to Church”, and if there were an award for Song Most Suited to a Crucifixion (Cinematic or Otherwise) then we’re sure Hozier’s breakthrough would sweep it. But to define the reach of his talents by a single whose release and subsequent notoriety was well-timed with the continued religious emancipation of Hozier’s (née Andrew Hozier-Byrne) native Ireland – with a little help from a highly provocative music video depicting small-town homophobia – would be disrespectful to his talent, especially with a self-titled debut packed full of tuneful exercises in fervent indie rock to explore.

“Jackie and Wilson” works with a noticeably more colourful palette than the majority of its parent album, sauntering into existence with tight garage-rock swipes that graduate into a sky-high, love-struck chorus.

See also:Take Me to Church”, “Someone New

12. La Roux – Kiss and Not Tell, Trouble In Paradise

La-Roux

Available to buy on iTunes

For Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid, the five-year gestation of their sophomore album yielded an almost filler-free collection of tracks drenched in new wave’s delicate, pleasure-seeking suavity, but apparently at the expense of their professional relationship. Langmaid abandoned the production in 2011, taking to Twitter this summer to denounce Jackson’s credibility by reducing their collaborations to an artist-muse scenario:

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This implicit bitterness looms large over Trouble In Paradise, with even the curling synth lines of second single “Kiss and Not Tell” buckling under the pressure. But with Jackson’s once chrome-plated falsetto now tamed into a smooth purr, the conscious-battling discourse on infidelity is given a cheeky lift that her altogether colder work on 2009’s hit-filled La Roux could only dream of. Spread the word.

See also: Uptight Downtown”, “Let Me Down Gently”, “Silent Partner

11. Iggy Azalea / Charli XCX – Fancy, The New Classic 

2014 mtvU Woodie Awards And Festival - Performance

Available to buy on iTunes

From its first few bars of gummed synth, “Fancy” is instantly recognisable as the song that ruled the summer of 2014. As far as we’re concerned, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea’s adopted Southern American accent is more of a tribute to a culture she grew up admiring than an offensive parody, but the upheaval that continues in the wake of her success makes us all the more grateful for the distraction that Charli XCX’s earworm of a topline provides to this very day.

See also:Iggy Szn”, “Beg For It” [feat. MØ], “Work

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