Katy Perry: Teenage Dream ** Virgin Records, £12.99
WHEN launching a new pop star into the overcrowded marketplace, the trick is to have them barge in with an obvious radio hit and burrow out a little niche that is seen to be uniquely theirs. In Katy Perry's case, stick her in a pair of retro hotpants, have her sucking on a Lolita lollipop and braying about a lesbian liaison, and the branded perfume and film career will surely follow.
Perry is one of the most transparently cynical pop princesses to emerge in recent years. The look may be coquettish 1950s pin-up but on Teenage Dream, her follow-up to multi-million-selling debut One Of The Boys, the witty old-school glamour only goes as far as the plans for a scratch'n'sniff sleeve that smells of cotton candy. Cute.
Rather, she goes for the commercial jugular with a trashy, vacuous Californian teen party aesthetic which makes The OC look like LA Confidential. See also: Ke$ha and her tour mates 3Oh!3, with whom she guested on god-awful single Starstrukk.
On Last Friday Night she beholds the morning after the night before with a complacent shrug - "is this a hickey or a bruise, pictures of last night ended up online... oh well" - knowing full well that her target audience will be able to relate to this unrepentant hedonistic pretence. The only difference between Katy Perry's party and a suburban "empty" is that her guests throw toy flamingos in the pool rather than vomit on the front lawn.
She doesn't even seem that bothered about the horrible, incongruous squealing sax solo that gatecrashes the scene at the fag end of the festivities. In fact, she would "do it all again". Katy Perry is down with the kids. Katy Perry is 25. But, hey, why should that preclude her from playing the eternal teenager? After all, the usual committee of songwriters and plastic pop producers who have carefully assembled this homogenous product are well past their freshman days.
She's still in a party state of mind on California Gurls, her inanely catchy west coast holler back to Jay-Z's Empire State Of Mind. Even with Snoop Dogg in the role of respected rapper, this superficial celebration of her "fine, fresh, fierce" sisters in short shorts has more in common with the sound of an Essex disco than the NY anthem, never mind the innocent drooling of Brian Wilson and his Beach Boys.
Pressing ahead, she has a few more boxes to tick in her 21st century teen odyssey. The superficial teenage angst and airbrushed regret of The One That Got Away sounds like the one that got away from Taylor Swift's album, while the title track, her best stab at some wide-eyed romantic bliss, sounds like any old processed pop pap.Being a naughty girl, she has to sully the high school sweetheart reverie with her slightly off-colour invitation to "let you put your hands on me, in my skintight jeans, be your teenage dream tonight". Does the sound of teenage kicks, 2010-style, have to be so generic?
She follows this with the lame suggestiveness of Peacock, a glorified cheerleader chant that satisfies her fondness for embarrassing double entendres and teasingly flatters the male ego while she's about it. This may be Perry's idea of taking control, but she displays zero finesse.
Elsewhere on her sex tour, she plays the submissive on a cyber love fantasy called E.T., steals Madonna's Like A Virgin conceit on Hummingbird Heartbeat, dressing it up in a parade of lyrical clichs and mid-80s pop/rock robes, and berates an inadequate, pill-popping lover on Circle The Drain with the withering put-down that "I wanna be your lover, not your f***in mother".
Just because Perry poses in pastels under a parasol doesn't mean she won't try to muscle in on rockier territory too. On Firework, she attempts a ballsy vocal over a ravey dance-pop backing track, and ends up sounding like a cut-price P!nk. Who Am I Living For? is the kind of overwrought, plodding synth-rock ballad you might expect from the pen of her namesake Linda Perry, and she continues in the same characterless femme angst vein on Pearl. Presumably, these tracks are her bid to be taken for a serious singer - if, that is, you understand serious singing as the ability to deliver a power vocal with no great understanding of dynamics.
It is around about this thoroughly mediocre point in proceedings that you almost hanker for the return of empty-headed party chick Perry. At least she had toy flamingos.