I wanted to hate this album. Not just because of that stupidass MTV article, but because my past 3 reviews have been 4.5 and 5 stars, and I need to save face.
But I could have been wrong. This could have come out as 12 pop songs that allowed all the personality of Perry’s debut One of the Boys to shine through on top of the wonderful work of Max Martin and Dr. Luke (the two high profile producers at work here). Why, that’d be a dream come true.
Too bad that Teenage Dream comes across as an overly glossy, plastic, robotic, lackluster package of bad ideas. And I’m not hating on this album because it’s popular or because of what some two-bit article said. I’m basing everything I say based on the album itself.
When I first heard the title track, my reaction was “eh”. It made Perry’s limits as a vocalist really clear, the “You. Make. Me. FeelLikeI’mLivingA. Teen. Age. Dream.” chorus kind of annoyed me, and the music, while fitting, felt a little too synthetic. Despite this, it’s still one of the better cuts on the album, which should be your first warning sign.
Back when I did a Radio Rant on “California Gurls”, I mentioned that Perry always put some personality into her songs, and I liked it. That is clearly not the case here. Take “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)” for example. Perry sounds completely robotic while singing some of the dumbest “party” lyrics I’ve ever heard. The backing music doesn’t help; hell, every song on here sounds too plastic and way too glossy. Even for nothing but synths, Teenage Dream sounds fake, and each song is loaded with too many bleeps and bloops, making the end result a digital mess.
And I feel like I’ve heard half of these songs before. “E.T.” irritates me because I can’t place where I’ve heard just about every sound in the song. Meanwhile, “The One That Got Away” uses the same synth tone that’s been kicked around since Timbaland used it in 2007. On future single “Firework”, the chorus melody sounds like “Careful” by Paramore (I don’t know either), while the string section from Jay Sean’s “Down” makes a guest appearance.
Then some songs decide to be bad by their own nature. The main offender here is “Peacock”, which might be a weird title, but let me tell you the first lyric in the song and you guess the rest. “I wanna your peacock-cock-cock”. Yeah, a four minute song about seeing a guy’s dick. What is she, 12? Then, moving on down the line, there’s “Circle the Drain” which finds Perry calling a guy out for substance abuse…even though she talks about blacking out and smelling “like a minibar” and how she can’t wait to do it again on “Last Friday Night”. “Circle the Drain” is also one of the weaker tracks on here for everybody: the bad lyrics (including an awkward F-bomb or two) in the weird melody with the electronic trainwreck of the backing music all run together making this song a bigger mess than the guy Perry’s telling off.
Mercifully, the back half of the album finds Katy and her crew trying a bit harder. The lyrics improve a bit when Perry moves to more personal (albeit cliche as fuck) subjects. “Pearl” is about a girl that gets held back by a boy, “Hummingbird Heartbeat” is a more pop-rock oriented love song, and “The One That Got Away” is probably a high point, although I could imagine anyone singing it. Then there’s “Not Like the Movies”, Perry’s attempt at a piano ballad, and let me emphasize “attempt”. Even though it’s 4 minutes, it has two minutes’ worth of development and feels like six minutes long.
Two more quick flaws. First of all, Perry’s vocal limits are too apparent too often; on “Firework” “Teenage Dream” I’m afraid her voice is going to crack at any moment, she slightly AutoTunes on “California Gurls” and “Peacock”, and “Circle the Drain” melodically jumps all over.
But really, the biggest kick is that this wasn’t unsalvageable. A little extra work here and there could have made things so much better. Put “Firework” in a key better suited for Perry’s voice, take out some of the busier electronics, slow it down a bit, and it could have been a great ballad. “Peacock” is a stupid track, but has a melody that’s actually interesting when it wants to be. Giving “Not Like the Movies” a build-up and a sense of direction would have done so much. This could have actually been decent.
But, as it stands, Teenage Dream is too schizophrenic, awkward, robotic, fake, and outright not fun to warrant anything else. Two stars.
tl;dr: Teenage Dream plays more like a 2010 pop nightmare. Two stars out of five.