Since the release of her debut album 12 years ago, Katy Perry has remained a powerhouse in the mainstream pop music landscape, with a massive sound catalogue that rivals even her most popular contemporaries.
The release of 2008’s mega hit single “I Kissed A Girl,” would set Perry on the path of consistently providing the radio waves with pop anthems. In the years since, the 35 year-old singer has provided numerous hits including “Firework,” “Hot N Cold” and “Dark Horse.” Although these songs range from inspirational anthems, bombastic breakup jams and sonically dark juggernauts, Perry remains completely committed to the pop music aesthetic she established years ago.
On Aug. 26, Perry and her fiance Orlando Bloom welcomed their first child, Daisy Dove Bloom, into the world, and Perry’s fourth studio album “Smile” came just two days later. “Smile” marks Perry’s first album released since 2017’s “Witness,” an album filled with recognizable hits, albeit a bit long.
“Smile” was an opportunity for Perry to explore new song topics and previously uncharted aspects of her life, as she was pregnant while she was writing and recording the album. Unfortunately, Perry is still bound by the pop music chains that have held her since the late 2000s.
“Smile,” is much shorter than Perry’s last release; the 12-song tracklist is close to a brisk 40-minute runtime. This works to the singer’s benefit and detriment in equal amounts. The songs never overstay their welcome, but sometimes come and go so quickly they blur together at breakneck speeds.
The production, songwriting and vocal work do little to expand Perry’s painfully sterile discography, and the artist winds up stuck in a loop of one catchy pop melody after another until the album comes to a close.
That’s not to say it’s a total loss. The songs are all catchy, and the instrumentation feels grand and expensive, especially songs like “Never Really Over” and “Cry About It Later.” The tracks are both anchored by a grandiose techno-pop instrumental, complete with electronic drum kicks and gliding synths that provide a canvas for Perry’s powerful vocals.
Adversely, “Daisies” and “Resilient” have a much more reserved composition. The expected sub-bass and slithering synths are still present but used more sparingly, making room for acoustic plucking and wafting underwater piano keys.
“Smile,” the title track on the album, is a standout song, containing sweeping drums and ostentatious trumpets that permeate the song’s catchy chorus. Perry’s vocals are heavily layered, with harmonies implemented across the verses that crescendo into a overlaid feel-good chorus.
The catchiest melodies come through on songs like “Harleys in Hawaii,” “Only Love” and “Champagne Problems.” Sadly, these songs find themselves on the back end of the album and wind up being too similar instrumentally to the first half of the album. The first half’s homogeneity makes getting to these songs more of a chore than it might be worth for some.
The closing song, “What Makes a Woman,” is a quick two-minute acoustic ballad that resembles Southern folk more than pop, utilizing heavy reverberation on Perry’s vocals, a heavy Southern vocal twang and harmonious background chanting vocals. It’s a shame that more of the album didn’t pull in this direction. This style feels exciting when compared to the rest of the album, which is ironic because this song is easily the most restrained song present.
By the end of “Smile,” the hope of a new direction for the artist has all but dissipated, and all that’s left is an album full of songs that could be swapped out for any other Katy Perry album tracklist — no one would know the wiser.
For those already in tune with Perry’s artistry, this will likely be something they can cherish as much as Perry’s previous albums, but for those hoping for an evolution into a new musical orientation, it’s best to look elsewhere.