CD Review of One of the Boys by Katy Perry
Recommended if you like
Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson
Label
Capitol
Katy Perry: One of the Boys

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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K
aty Perry is “sassy,” “cheeky,” “witty,” “feisty,” “quirky,” and “in-your-face.” She’s also “zeitgeist-capturing” and “music’s newest ‘it girl.’” Why do we know this? Because the rural county phonebook-sized press kit that comes along with her debut CD, One of the Boys, tells us so, over and over again. And Perry’s songs – which come with titles like “If You Can Afford Me,” “I Kissed a Girl,” and (sigh) “Ur So Gay” – make sure we know it too; pop music hasn’t seen a mainstream female artist this aggressively “quirky” since Cyndi Lauper was raiding the Clairol aisle of her local Walgreens and dancing in wrestling rings with Captain Lou Albano.

Cyndi Lauper’s first album was awesome, of course, partly because she was far enough ahead of the curve that her label hadn’t yet figured out how to try and package her personality in Middle America-friendly, one-size-fits-all form. Nearly a quarter century later, that package is just another one of the plastic tubs that new artists have to choose from; even if your “sassiness” is sincere – and that’s certainly debatable in Perry’s case – that matters less than how quickly and forcefully the label can arrange to have it squirted down your target demographic’s gullet. On that front, Capitol’s campaign for this album has been a thing of sheer beauty – they released a digital EP (titled Ur So Gay, natch) and watched the “in-your-face” single (there’s “Ur So Gay” again) whip tastemakers such as cultural skidmark/human Easter egg Perez Hilton into a joyous lather. Viral video? Cute retro-glam look? Spot on the Vans Warped Tour? Check, check, and check.

Katy Perry

The point is that no bets were hedged here, which is fine – some damn fine pop records have been assembled with a modicum of talent and the sheer power of cynicism. One of the Boys isn’t one of them, however. One of the culprits is the production, ladled on like thick, sticky gobs of Day-Glo paint by a committee that included Glen Ballard, Max Martin, Butch Walker, and – somewhat inexplicably – Dave Stewart. Perry claims her biggest influence is Queen, but if these songs started out with any trace of that sound, it was crushed like a bug by the men behind the boards, whose only apparent goal was to weld together the brightest, loudest pop record of the year. Did you spend several thousand dollars on your stereo system? Too goddamn bad – Katy Perry is still going to sound like she’s screaming at you from a five-dollar transistor radio that’s been dropped in a 64-gallon aluminum garbage can.

The production can only be blamed for so much, though; the main problem here is really Perry herself. Her songs are hooky as all get-out, but they’re also packed to the gills with clichés, many of them about how she wants to “break the mold” because she’s an outcast but she doesn’t care ‘cause it’s awesome to just get out there and rock, blah blah blah. This is annoying at first – particularly on the horrible “Ur So Gay” – but it ultimately winds up just being boring. She might want to be Lily Allen, or Amy Winehouse, or Gwen Stefani, but on One of the Boys, she mostly comes across as a marginally more interesting Ashlee Simpson.

A final warning for prospective listeners: Vocally, Perry is like a cross between Alanis Morrisette and Kevin Cronin – she rides her R’s like her life depends on it, and if you can’t listen to either of those singers without wincing, this album is most definitely not for you. If you’re a young teenage girl, on the other hand – or if, like Perez Hilton, you have the depth and emotional maturity of one – it’s probably right up your alley. Listen accordingly.

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