Katy Perry, ‘Teenage Dream’
As if Christina Aguilera and Ke$ha didn’t already send pop music to its deathbed this year, Katy Perry comes close to finishing it off. The Bible-girl-gone-bad runs wild on the emotionally scrambled hit-factory “Teenage Dream” – not kissing girls (and liking it), but waking up in a post-party haze, reliving her horny adolescence and shrugging off scandalous pics of her online. And then, to add more cotton candy to her song catalog, there’s the frothy first single “California Gurls,” where life is peachy, there are popsicle-melting peeps … and Snoop Dogg. The title track lives in paradise, too – a celebration of youth and finding love, themes that bobble along a current of cosmic rev and a guitar line that sounds faintly like it belongs to “Since U Been Gone.” “Let’s go all the way tonight,” she hoots. And when she follows it up with the trashy, oh-so-clever “Peacock,” her subtly challenged ode to you-know-what that’s so ’80s it wears a leotard, she’s obviously not bluffing. Perry, who began criminally overtaking the charts with mind-hijacking hits off 2008’s “One of the Boys,” is still the McDonald’s of pop music: an irresistible no-no that quenches hook-hungry heads, especially with the ’90s-sounding soap opera “The One that Got Away.” The pop tart’s a decent writer, a decent singer and a perfect sexpot. And she knows exactly what she’s doing – living deep in our own dirty dreams. Grade: C+
Sara Bareilles, ‘Kaleidoscope Heart’
If we learned anything from Sara Bareilles’ “Little Voice,” her impression-making major label debut, it was that she was lying: Nothing about her sweet, soulful croon is tiny. That big voice, which blew up because of a certain “Love Song,” commands throughout her follow-up, one that’s poised for lots of play on the CW with its jaunty coffeehouse pop. Her good-vibes sound – for instance, “Uncharted,” a sugary high that’s pure power anthem – feels good even when she’s not. On “Gonna Get Over You” Bareilles bebops through heartbreak, and she makes “King of Anything,” a killer kiss-off, seem as inviting as a prettily packaged bazooka. But this album isn’t some “Love Song” molding machine; Bareilles’ voice reaches into her, well, kaleidoscope heart to pull out all the colors of her voice – the most gorgeous of which shines through “The Light,” a simple, cushy ballad. The delicate “Bluebird,” with its careful breaks and floating keyboards, achieves the same greatness. “Machine Gun” begins deceivingly, another acerbic rant that bounces into a blaze of instrumental fury and a vocal that reaches past the sky. And it’s Bareilles’ voice that, even when she’s sometimes off her game lyrically, makes this “Heart” beat. Grade: B+
The Weepies, ‘Be My Thrill’
Like She & Him, the Weepies’ whimsical indie folk-pop – also performed by a gender-opposite duo – is as cute as it is emotionally charged. The title track is a perky piece of genius, and even boasts lesbian love in its video. Dig deeper, past songs like “I Was Made for Sunny Days,” and there’s melancholy longing, as heard on the clever tearjerker “Not a Lullaby.” A thrill, for sure.
Megan McCormick, ‘Honest Words’
Off to a good start with a line of songs that drill and bite, the 23-year-old’s debut coasts with raw, bluesy rockers and a muscular beyond-her-years voice. “Do Right,” a pop-country cut, especially sounds like a hit looking for a home. But when the charged opening tuckers out, she falls back on tedious folkie balladry that’s authentic and endearing, but monotonous and sagging.
Ryan Star, ’11:59′
Reality show-birthed rockers often feel like extensions of each other – Chris Daughtry sounds like David Cook sounds like Ryan Star. CBS’s “Rock Star: Supernova” offspring, though, likes to play up the pop sensibility more than either “Idol” contestant, turning every other song into a sound juggernaut. But, if Star wants to be one, it’ll take more than some bait and a big voice.