Music

Music Review: Katy Perry, Witness – purposeful pop needn't be such a drag

Katy Perry gets serious on her new album Witness, with mixed results.

If you can’t count on Katy Perry for a bit of fun any more, then who can you count on? Describing her latest era as one of “purposeful pop” – rather inferring that all those previous sparky bangers of hers so beloved by legions of young fans were just tossed out aimlessly – the Californian has contracted a touch of the old ‘serious artistness’ on her fifth album Witness. ‘Woke’ lyrics? Check. Lots of lingering in the minor key? You bet. Bit of bad language? Inside the first 30 seconds.

That’s not to suggest that Perry ought to stay in her lane or something. She’s long been a powerful advocate for LGBT rights, and as an avowed feminist her fierce public endorsement of Hillary Clinton during last year’s US election seemed to come from a very personal place. But she doesn’t have to don a cloak of sonic density and darkness in order to remind everyone that she’s got a conscience. Being socially aware needn’t seem like such a drag.

Chained to the Rhythm (“We’re about to riot / They woke up the lions”), Hey Hey Hey (“I’m feminine and soft / but I’m still a boss”) and the Nicki Minaj-featuring Swish Swish are each backside-kickingly good pop songs in their own ways. But most of Witness’ heavily house-influenced tracks feel stodgy and samey, possibly owing to the usual, curiously unadventurous over-assemblage of collaborators you’ll find behind most big pop albums these days – Shellback, Jeff Bhasker and Sia Furler included. Max Martin’s work across six tracks of varying quality is a reminder that the Swede’s slightest touch doesn’t turn everything to platinum.

Perry picks a couple of fairly leftfield people to work with, too, but neither can they lift Witness. Much-underrated Canadian synthpop duo Purity Ring are behind the crisp beats of Miss You More and Bigger Than Me. Closing track Into Me You See is one of Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor’s trademark sad boy, soulful piano ballads. Sung in his seven-stone-weakling falsetto, it could sound wonderfully tender, yet Perry belts it out in her typically OTT way – and like much else that’s wrong with Witness, simply overpowers it.

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