Katy Perry, ‘Witness’
Once upon a time, former Christian singer Katy Perry was just a simple California gurl doing simple California gurl things, like spraying Reddi Wip from her boobs because it’s fun to blast things from your boobs. Musically, orgasms were not-so-cryptically analogized as full-on symphonies and hummingbirds in flight. Sad, wandering plastic bags were wrongfully used to convey deep desolation. Then the underwhelming “Prism” happened. It tried to deepen Perry’s style palette, but musically speaking, the album was a whimper, not a roar. Perry reaches for lioness heights on “Witness,” her fourth album for a major label. But while attempting to replace flippancy for wokeness, the pop fixture who took faux bisexuality to No. 1 loses touch with her hottest commodity: those escapist, guilty-pleasure hooks. “Witness,” then, is a rough sketch of an album without any artistic merit and even less of an identity. Of course, Perry’s confused sense of self could be overlooked if “Witness” at least served up some melodic diversions; but, in fact, there was a greater chance at being riveted if you caught her refreshingly exposed, 72-hour live stream, which featured a sit-down with RuPaul. At least the ’90s-influenced house banger “Swish Swish,” though insipidly written, has Nicki Minaj-buoyed verve, and the title track is an earnest statement song about being loved for who we are. But then there’s “Save As Draft,” more twaddle (this one took six writers, including Perry), about an e-message Perry intended to send to an ex but never did. Maybe the note was unfinished. Maybe she didn’t have the courage to send it. Maybe the undercooked “Witness,” too, could’ve used more time in the same folder.
Something happens during Lorde’s new album – so far, the year’s best – that I can’t stop thinking about. In the middle of “Supercut,” as the track swirls into something almost spiritual, and the drums kick up and the synths fizzle (thanks to co-producer Jack Antonoff for this beautiful soundbed), the track dissolves. Lorde sings like she’s on the phone with you. She sounds so close. Then, out of frustration, out of anger, out of heartbreak, she unleashes an exasperated wail as if she’s trying to perfectly illustrate why she called her sophomore album “Melodrama.” Lorde’s follow-up to 2013’s “Pure Heroine” has no problems living up to its name, with “Perfect Places,” a brilliant escapist anthem, and the devastating confessional “Writer in the Dark,” which deserves all your tears. “I’m 19 and I’m on fire,” she affirms. It doesn’t matter that she’s 20 now (Lorde’s sophisticated writing is beyond her young age), or that you’re however old you are. This timeless, textured breakup album will stay with you for years to come.
The Secret Sisters, ‘You Don’t Own Me Anymore’
Leave it to a lesbian to save the world one girl group at a time. Ready to throw in the towel after a heavy bout of business trouble, including filing for bankruptcy in 2014, siblings Laura and Lydia Rogers, who comprise the Secret Sisters, return thanks to out Americana queen Brandi Carlile. Like a country song that someone should be writing right now (next album, Sisters?), their comeback country throwback means someone else will have to scrub the bathrooms Lydia was scrubbing during their hiatus. Why? Because if the songs on the sublime “You Don’t Own Me Anymore” are any indication, from their stunningly wistful remake of “Kathy’s Song” to their backwoods sprawl, “Mississippi,” the Secret Sisters are right where they belong.
London Grammar, ‘Truth Is a Beautiful Thing’
London Grammar’s gorg but fairly benign release, “Truth Is a Beautiful Thing,” has one of modern music’s purest voices, that of Hannah Reid – think angel Annie Lennox, paired with Florence Welch’s soulful soar – pulling you through the shattered shards and into grace’s comforting arms with every swoop of her magical instrument. That transcendent effect enraptures on set opener “Rooting For You,” where Reid’s cosmic-like voice breezes through brushes of guitars and keyboards like a sunrise breaking the clouds. Depending on your fondness for looking at the same pretty skyline, the rest of Grammar’s tepid sophomore album, so mellow it makes Enya sound like a dance diva, may just be the chill summer getaway we all need right now.