By George Fenwick.
From the avant-garde cover art, Katy Perry's dramatic new haircut and all her talk of "purposeful pop," you could be forgiven for thinking this album might actually have been good, or at the very least interesting. But the most irritating thing about Witness, in context of Perry's roller coaster of a promotional rollout (livestream included), is that it is completely bland.
Perry has proven she can make great pop music - her 2010 album Teenage Dream excellently captured the ecstasy of adolescence, with the singer effortlessly playing multiple characters on an album that produced a plethora of hits. Witness, by contrast, is lifeless.
For a start, the album is cramped. There are 15 tracks, seemingly for no apparent reason other than that it might maximise Spotify streams. There's little variation in production style, and lyrically, it's a mess. Several tracks follow the dire trend in pop music of choosing a flat simile and using an entire song to thwack you over the head with it: On Roulette, a night out is like Russian Roulette; on Tsunami, sex is like swimming; on Bon Appetit, sex is like eating.
That's not all. Twice on Witness, Perry rhymes "trouble" with "bubble"; on Deja vu, a lover's words are "like Chinese water torture," and on Miss You More, Perry thinks deeply: "I saw a balloon floating away/I thought, 'Did somebody let go, or did they lose it?'" There's even a whole song about subtweeting. With a roster of talented songwriters that includes Max Martin, who is known for his pop-song Midas touch, and Sia Furler, it's puzzling that these songs made it past the writing stage.
If this is Perry's politicised era, she sets the bar low. Hey Hey Hey drives home a message of female empowerment with all the subtlety and nuance of a freight train: "Cause I'm feminine and soft, but I'm still a boss, yeah/Red lipstick but still so raw, yeah ... Karate chopping the cliches and norms all in a dress." For an artist who once rejected feminism, her embracing it is commendable, but nothing she's saying hasn't already been said more eloquently by other female singers.
There are just enough hooks here to keep fans happy, but Witness ultimately lacks any sort of coherence or spark. Though she laments on the album's lead single that we're all "chained to the rhythm," it seems Perry has lost her own.
Katy Perry, Witness
Artist: Katy Perry
Label: Capitol Record
Verdict: Perry's purpose is lost in this messy, incoherent record