katy perry - witness / by Zack Free

katy perry has never been on the cutting edge of pop music. for the majority of her career, she's occupied an awkward space in the middle of her contemporaries, never quite matching their star-making eccentricities. at its best, her music is a lot like her 2015 super bowl halftime show: technically impressive, but somehow unremarkable. her fifth studio album, witness, makes every attempt to try to change this. its lead single, "chained to the rhythm," has been touted as the world's introduction to woke katy perry. in actuality, it's an incredibly vague (and ironic) disavowal of brain-dead pop music, and probably the worst radio smash that sia has penned since rihanna's "diamonds". the album also tries (and fails) to siphon some life out of its collaborators, a list of which includes purity ring, mike will made-it, dj mustard, and hot chip. however, the record lives up to very little of the excitement that its liner notes might inspire; the material here is largely uninspired, bottom-of-the-barrel fodder that highlights no particular aspect of perry's talent. even max martin's contributions are lifeless, half-baked clunkers that actually weigh the album down quite a bit. "hey hey hey," his worst contribution here, sounds like it's written and performed by "this sick beat" taylor swift. 

the highlights on witness are few and far between, but where the album does succeed, it does so by spinning familiar influences in innovative ways. "pendulum," produced by jeff bhasker and illangelo, draws from the well-tread genres and 80s synthpop and 90s house, but comes out as something refreshing and original. it's an inspiring, gospel-tinged stomper that somehow fits perry like a glove, and it's the best moment here. the only other real moment of innovation on the album is "power," an early cut helmed by the singer and british musician jack garratt. sonically and thematically, it's the most intense record here, bolstered by a surprisingly passionate performance from perry. unfortunately, these peaks are dulled considerably by the songs that surround them. "pendulum," for example, is follow by the album's sleepy, hot-chip produced closer "into me you see," and "power" is succeeded by "mind maze," which is probably the most boring thing that purity ring has ever been involved in. these kind of songs, found in plenty on witness, point to the album's fatal flaw. it tries too hard to prove itself, attempting to cast perry as a forward-leaning pop entity, which she has simply never been. her robotic likeness on the album's cover is a fitting representation; glossy and ostensibly futuristic, but hollow F