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Album Audit: Katy Perry, SZA, Phoenix And More

Written By Sam Murphy on 06/13/2017

Album Audit is a weekly Interns feature, recapping and reviewing the album releases of the week with a cheeky score out of five.

SZA – CTRL

Album Of The Week

SZA has always been a good, solid artist but up until about a year ago you never would have predicted that she was bound for greatness. Her contribution to Rihanna’s ANTI, Consideration, seemed to mark a shift in her. She arrived with confidence both vocally and lyrically, leaving the wispy falsetto behind in favour of something far more powerful. CTRL sees her take that mode and extend it over an exceptional full length.

From the acoustic, bare-boned opener Supermodel, it’s clear that SZA is bringing it vocally. She oscillates between soaring and fast-paced wordplay, making even the most minimal of beats enthralling. Lyrically, she’s caught between confidence and anxiety, attempting to become comfortable with herself. She pairs lyrics like, “Wish I was comfortable just with myself,” with, “I been secretly banging your homeboy,” displaying the toil between power and doubt.

SZA leaves no stone unturned on CTRL. Drew Barrymore tackles self-worth with powerful poignancy, Love Galore deals with infidelity with a flirty playfulness and Garden (Say It Like That) is a love song centred around insecurities. These are all built on a bed of sparse, subtle R&B beats that put her voice front and centre.

Elsewhere she proves she can kick it with the boys, going toe-to-toe with Kendrick Lamar on Doves In The Wind, flipping his use of “pussy” to say that men who trivialise pussy are pussies themselves. That cut sounds like it would’ve slot into DAMN. effortlessly but SZA claims it as her own, delivering arguably better verses than K.Dot.

SZA concludes the album on 20 Something concluding that despite all these anxieties, doubts and trials, she never wants her “20 somethings” to end. That’s the takeaway from CTRL. Embrace what you’ve got because the alternative of not being on earth is “an abyss”, as her Mum says at the end of the album.

4.5/5

Katy Perry – Witness

At one point, Katy Perry was the biggest and the best popstar in the world. On Teenage Dream, she embraced a saccharine character that was colourful, wildly entertaining and, most importantly, armed with great songs. There’s been a shift in pop music since then. Most have ditched their characters. Lady Gaga is barer than she’s ever been, Rihanna has finally found a lane that musically matches her personality and the thought of Beyoncé taking on a Sasha Fierce-esque alter-ego again is laughable.

That shift has left Perry grappling to figure out where she sits in the pop world and to put it bluntly, she hasn’t found it. This album campaign has been a spectacular mess. From unintentionally comical SNL performances to a cringeworthy carpool karaoke, she’s drawn attention to anything but the music. A 72 hour live stream over the weekend showed a paranoid Perry more concerned about convincing everyone she knows her “white privilege” than talking about the music.

On top of that, second single Bon Apetit was an epic misfire that derailed the entire album campaign. And it didn’t need to happen because Witness has better songs than that. The title track is beautifully melodic with a perky chorus that would charm the radio and Hey Hey Hey sounds like the lovechild of E.T. and Part Of Me. Roulette, with its appropriated ’90s synths and stomping beat, is one of the most powerful cuts of her career too and yet somehow Bon Apetit and Swish Swish rose above.

The issue is, the album as a whole is as confused as its rollout. She sort of embraces weirder production with Purity Ring, Hayden James and Jack Garratt on board but then she falls back on that trusty Max Martin production for half the album. Mind Maze, Tsunami and Pendulum are sonically exciting but they’re plonked next to worthless ballads like Save As Draft and Into Me You See. Power is by far the most sonically interesting but a pulsating drum beat at the beginning promises the world only to be let down by a beige vocal.

Perry promised purposeful pop on Witness and while she delivers a political message on numerous occasions, it’s always painfully vague. The general message is I’m woke, come and join me but she never enters into specifics. Lyrics like, “my intuition says there’s a bigger mission I must embrace,” are just so full of self-appraisal that it’s hard to know whether she’s fighting for the world or for her own public image. That vagueness carries through to the sounds she uses because while she dips into house, hip-hop, vapourware and ’80s power pop, she never sticks around long enough to fully commit. There’s nothing wrong with traversing many sounds on a record but you still need to define yourself as an artist. Witness is the work of an artist grasping at straws in the midst of an identity crisis. Perry, her team and her fans are better than this.

2/5

Vic Mensa – The Manuscript

Vic Mensa was on course to be one of the biggest rappers in the world in 2015. He was operating in Kanye’s circles and dropping huge radio hits. But instead of continue that in the midst of mental health issues, he took the time to look after himself and instead of chasing radio hits, has returned with personal, poignant music.

The Manuscript comes ahead of his debut album and even declares that the record is finished and coming. If the EP is a sign of what’s to come then we’re in for one hell of a record because the EP alone is spectacular. The four song effort feels more optimistic than its predecessor 16 Shots. Opener Almost There is a hopeful prelude to the album, driven by a euphoric Mr. Hudson hook and OMG sees him flexing his ego once again. The latter makes it feel like Mensa truly has his ego back.

On the back-half of the EP he gets personal. Rollin’ Like A Stone juxtaposes the rock star life with mental health issues over a dark beat that could have easily been lifted from The Life Of Pablo‘s darker moments. The EP ends of masterpiece Rage with Mensa singing once again. He sings, “you’re fine,” and while it’s one of the more personal moments on the EP, it’s also an announcement that Mensa’s ready to fight again. He’s back.

4/5

Phoenix – Ti Amo

Almost two decades into their career, Phoenix don’t have anything to prove anymore. They’re one of the sole survivors of the alt-rock movement of the ’00s and have maintained their sound while growing gradually. Ti Amo isn’t as poppy or euphoric as its predessecor Bankrupt! but it’s endlessly charming. The synths sparkle, that French accent delights and their depictions of love are simple but satisfying.

Opener J-Boy proves that the Frenchman are still more than capable of making you dance while the title track details fleeting love with the important questions like, “Champagne or Prosecco?” While light, summery jams Tuttifrutti and Goodbye Soleil will slide by you without you even noticing there are moment that will make you sit up. Lovelife rightfully makes an endearing synth its centrepiece and Role Model channels ’80s drama which is rare for the usually fluffy Phoenix.

We end Ti Amo, dancing on the otherside of the world, dreaming of a love in Hollywood. Frontman Thomas Mars’ Italian is even more charming than his French and we’re left sucked into this Italian love story that’s full of hyperbole and drama. Just how we like any Italian piece of art.

3.5/5