A clear, airy guitar solo begins the brilliant title track at the beginning of Katy Perry’s fourth record, as it is the first thing that fans get to hear from Katy Perry after nearly four years of no music. Hardcore fans would know that the track has been leaked just over a year ago from a Twitter hack, and what a turn of events that the first piece of concrete news for KP4 would turn out to be somewhat the core of the whole record. Leading up to the release, from every interview to every press photo, and when the release of the symbolic album artwork made everybody wonder, “did I go to the wrong artist or did the girl that made “Teenage Dream” become really indie?”, it all portrays Katy as this brand new popstar – empowered, liberated, the 2017 kids call it “woke”. And she can’t wait to show everybody her new found freedom.
It all comes down to “Witness”, an album bringing our ears deep down into Katy’s reinvented sound and personality. From that very airy guitar solo from the first second and throughout 15 tracks, everything is undeniably fresh. On her fourth effort, Katy is unafraid to find freedom in her sound. By moving away from frequent names in the pop industry and collaborating with more left-from-centre composers, the quality of production shimmers throughout the record. In the title track, for example, Katy has managed to make a mid-tempo tune sound so anthemic and powerful, with it’s three-dimensional layers and one hell of a chorus. Production continues to shine in bass-thumping club punch “Swish Swish”, and the dark, Tove Lo-reminiscent “Deja Vu”. Tracks that are more back into the comfort zone like “Hey Hey Hey” and “Roulette” are nice touches too, but the stakes of the record blows off the rooftops in the very evidently Jack Garratt-produced “Power”. As the title suggests it’s gotten hearts racing and blood thumping before Katy even begins the first verse. Jack motherfucking Garratt, ladies and gentlemen.
Katy might have scored with the upbeat pop tracks, but turns out unsure once the bass gets tone down, or as territory gets more unfamiliar. “Mind Maze”, for example, is a nice song on its own and an eye-opening one coming from Katy, and though it might please alternative listeners, it gets more skippable as the runtime goes on, as ideas just seem to repeat themselves. “Miss You More”, the song that follows after, tries to be a more interesting ballad with its electronic elements in the background, while we all know the best ballads are the ones that keep it simple – check one of Katy’s best songs “Unconditionally” for an example. She often sounds uncomfortable when it comes to more unusual melodies and letting the production taking the lead, maybe too used to her instantly chart-topping choruses and melodies, and perhaps this transition has all been a bit too quick. There is one song where she completely nails it out the comfort zone though – “Tsunami” is a fantastic psychedelic, sensual burner that simulates the rippling waves and flowing motions that the track suggests. Who knew another pop girl could rock Tame Impala besides Gaga and Rihanna?
A bold thing that the record promises is the idea that caught all our attention – the phrase “purposeful pop”, liberation and a form of purpose in the means of pop music. Political influences in the album has been a definite ever since Katy went all out during Hilary’s campaign, and of course huge political vibes have already been given on the very first glimpse of the record, as Katy’s dystopian disco head-nodder “Chained To The Rhythm” calls on everybody to wake up from the status quo and fight the resistance. Though besides “Bigger Than Me”, the synth-packed dance anthem that documents self-discovery and realisation to be bigger in purpose than yourself, empowerment anthems like “Power” are all the purpose that “Witness” really delivers. Then minus the “sexual liberation” and you get tough lyrics like “Your words are like Chinese water torture”. After the brilliant lyrics delivered with the lead single, it’s no surprise that the lyrical side of “Witness” still feels weak, and ironic how a message-oriented record is now mostly led by its production.
All in all, “Witness” shines with production, but lacks in the core part of a perfect record that it tries to advertise with so much effort – the message, though it has been clear that Katy’s not the best lyricist out there (something she can take notes from her rival perhaps!). Surprisingly, the best lines of the record often comes from those with more complex ideas and aren’t basic love songs, but still the lyrics were what made all those huge expectations come to unreality. It’s a good, wide step away from Katy’s one-sided, bubblegum-filled discography, though, and what better proof could there be that mainstream pop isn’t the only thing K-Pez can do?
Essentials: Witness, Power, Tsunami
(7.5 / 10)