Likes: Power, Miss You More, Pendulum
Overall: Proof reflection albums aren't always depressing. Sturdier vocals, decent lyrics, techno club-friendly
Since breaking away from contemporary Christian rock (that is still such a surprising, random fun fact), Katy Perry's been known for her tasty pop confections. The new Witness is just as sweet, but the content reveals a more contemplative and restless Perry. She queries what the best path to contentment and fulfillment is (ex. "Mind Maze), and is eager to drop bad habits and cyclic relationships (ex. Deja Vu). On "Power," she sings of ending generational submission and taking back the identity that she lost in an oppressive partner. If she's not combating toxic love, she bemoans affairs of those past (ex. "Save as Draft"). Even this isn't done without self-analyzation, as she questions the motives for her longing on "Miss You More:" "But your mind plays tricks with distance; always makes things feel so unfinished...I miss you more than I loved you."
Her musings aren't limited to interpersonal concerns. "Bigger Than Me" and single "Chained to the Rhythm" (which has a great video, by the way) discuss seeking the superficial comforts of complacency and avoidance at the expense of progression. "Hey Hey Hey" is a little more socio-politically overt, dealing with false assumptions about femininity. It puts you in the mind of No Doubt's "I'm Just a Girl" and Chrisette Michele's "Porcelain Doll." There's irony in the personal growth and social themes. Over the years, Perry's been accused of LGBT-insensitive moves and cultural appropriation. The latter topic was formally addressed by the singer in an interview with activist and Pod Save the People podcast host, DeRay McKesson.
Musically, Witness isn't a melting pot. It sounds intentionally idealized for a techno dance club, and it doesn't get any more discotheque than the hater kiss-off single "Swish Swish" with Nicki Minaj. Pop priest Max Martin continues his long-standing tango with Perry, producing 7/15 tracks. Noah "Mailbox" Passovoy, best known for his work with Maroon 5, also has several co-collaborating credits. He teamed up with hip-hop's Mike Will Made it for the toothsome bedroom player, "Tsunami." British singer-songwriter Jack Garratt joined him on the aforementioned "Power," which features a quite unexpected sample of Smokey Robinson's "Being with You." How the tender 1981 hit is manipulated to support "Power's" winding tenaciousness is kind of fascinating. Passovoy worked on the "feel good" cut "Pendulum" as well, with genre factotum Jeff Bhasker. Choir in tow, the heartening song has dusts of funk that make you suspect that it too samples an R&B classic. As appetizing as this album is, parts of it do fade into the background and require a constant refreshing of memory. Paradoxically, the title track is a primary example of this.
In terms of vocals, I stated in my review for 2013's Prism that Perry's voice was shrill and "seemingly limited" at times, fuller and emotive at others. The vocals are sturdy and consistent on Witness. Any shots at diversifying don't miss because she wisely doesn't go outside of the bounds of her aptitudes.
Only time will tell if Witness will be considered a landmark record in Katy Perry's discography. If nothing else, it will be known as the moment she was called to action.