Katy Perry's fourth studio album arrives heralded by both an online video in which the singer symbolically burns a blue wig – like the one she wore on stage during the world tour during which her brief marriage to Russell Brand collapsed – and a lengthy cover feature in Billboard magazine, the bible of the US music business. The latter enumerates Perry's impressive commercial achievements. She has had nine US No 1 singles since 2008 – five of them came from her last album, Teenage Dream, equalling a record set by Michael Jackson's Bad – and somehow contrived to launch three perfumes in as many years, some blessed with names that signify something other than what they were perhaps intended to: "What's that smell?" "It's Katy Perry's Miaow."
And then, the Billboard feature lets fly with a bombshell. Teenage Dream's follow-up was inspired by the work of Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, Stillness Speaks: Whispers of Now, and Guardians of Being: Spiritual Teachings from Our Cats and Dogs. As a result of Tolle's influence, avers Billboard, Prism is "Katy Perry's most spiritual album to date", a direction coyly hinted at by the opaquely titled bonus track Spiritual.
Katy Perry's most spiritual album to date: is it possible to read those words without feeling your buttocks involuntarily clench? For one thing, spirituality has always proved a difficult topic for rock and pop to address. It's certainly inspired a few moments of transcendent wonder, but they're outweighed by yards of runny, new-age philosophising, or worse, self-righteous hectoring: Bob Dylan's Property of Jesus, the smug preachiness of George Harrison's 70s oeuvre. And if the Beatles and Dylan couldn't address man's quest for greater meaning without making you want to throw litter at them, what price the author of Dressing Up ("You wanna pet my kitty? You're such a dirty doggie") and Ur So Gay?
Of course, there are those who would point out that being the most spiritual Katy Perry album to date is a bit like being the Dimmu Borgir album most suited to use in a Zumba fitness class: it isn't really saying much, given the context. Those people are swiftly proved correct. Perry's description of tabla-heavy Legendary Lovers as a song that "has a bit of curry in it" should alert us to the fact that hers is not perhaps a wholehearted immersion in the mysticism of the east, or indeed anywhere else. And so it proves: the lyrics graft a load of new-age buzzwords – third eye, karma, mantra – on to a song about having it off. It sets the lyrical tone for the rest of the album, which seems noticeably less concerned with man's quest for greater meaning than it does with pointing out that (a) Russell Brand is a bit of a rum character – the closing power ballad By the Grace of God claims he dumped Perry via text message, leaving her suicidally depressed – and (b) Perry is now at it non-stop with her current inamorato, John Mayer, a relationship hymned at length in This Moment, Love Me and Double Rainbow. There's doubtless someone out there who's mortally offended by the fact that Katy Perry appears to be wearing spirituality in much the same way as she once wore two giant rotating peppermint swirl sweets over her bosoms – perhaps that Huffington Post columnist who gamely tried to encourage fans of the "demonic" Beyoncé to abandon her in favour of a lady who performs reggae versions of the Hare Krishna mantra – but for anyone else, it comes as a small mercy.
And if Prism doesn't tell you much about Katy Perry's spiritual journey, it does tell you something about the pecking order of pop music. So many Scandinavian hit factories were involved in its writing that the credits look like IFK Göteborg's first-team squad: Åhlund, Lidehäll, Hermansen, Gottwald. They're the people who write virtually every major pop album these days, but that doesn't mean they always come up with the same stuff. Nothing on Prism is exactly sonically adventurous – the big idea seems to be mimicking early-90s pop-house, hence the jangling piano riff of Walking on Air, or Birthday, which vaguely resembles a four-to-the-floor remix of a Mariah Carey track – but the melodies are significantly stronger than those a similar cast of writers came up with for, say, Jessie J's recent album.
The single Roar is ruthlessly efficient in its bid to get the drunk and recently dumped member of the girls' night out party up on the table, using her WKD bottle as a microphone, and the rest of the album follows suit: if the ballads are standard issue, the faintly trap-inspired Dark Horse sounds like a hit single, as does Birthday and, for better or worse, the new jack swing parody This Is How We Do. When the latter achieves omnipresence on the radio, and its chorus takes up adverse possession of your cerebrum, you can always console yourself with the thought of what Prism might have been like had Katy Perry actually meant all that stuff about Eckhart Tolle.
what did you think of the album? favorite songs?