You Have to Look at The Prism the Right Way

It was the spring of 2009. It was a rather odd time in my life. I had just finished my first year of college, still had no idea what I wanted to do with life (do I now?), and gained the infamous freshman 15 (ok, 20). Like I said, this time was just odd, not depressing, just plain odd.

Did I also mention that I had black hair and ear studs? Those pictures have been deleted.

katy-perryThe now superstar, Katy Perry, had just premiered the year earlier with her landmark first single “I Kissed a Girl.” From the moment I heard that song I knew that I would be a fan. I still remember where and when I bought her first album, One of The Boys. I loved her rebellious attitude and how she had a hand in writing all her songs.

On May 11, 2009, my fandom for Perry was sealed in cement as I traveled to Dallas to see her first tour “Hello Katy” at the now closed Dallas House of Blues. She was enchanting to say the least. There was a certain aura around the whole auditorium when she took the stage and it’s something I have not seen again.

Now fast forward to 2015. I have bought every Katy Perry album since then the first day of release and have listened to them religiously. My favorite will always be One of The Boys. Her writing was on point in that album and she didn’t have as much commercial influence. I still sing “Waking Up in Vegas” in the shower.

In 2013 Perry released her 4th album, Prism, and to be honest, this is where she lost me. IKPPrismCoverHiRes80-400x400-1382399122 quickly dismissed this album. Teenage Dream was an amazing album that almost topped Michael Jackson’s Thriller for most number one singles. The accolades just rolled in for her. Usually I don’t feel good when these awards roll in for artist, but Perry is so genuine that I could do nothing but smile.

Prism opens up with the now Perry classic “Roar” and is on Hillary Clinton’s Spotify playlist. I always took Hillary as more of a Cher girl, but kudos for jumping into the millennium! “Roar” is a great power anthem to anybody who has ever been kicked down either by love, betrayal, friendship, you name it. I love the consistent piano “ting” if you will, that keeps beat throughout the song.

What I love about vinyl albums is that it breaks the actual album up into different “acts.” I didn’t dig Side A to this album at all. “Roar” was great, but I really wasn’t feeling songs like “Birthday” or “Legendary Lovers.”

Side B starts out with what I often say is one of Perry’s best vocal performances of her career. “Unconditionally” was the second single from the album. I was glad that Perry was releasing such an emotional song. She had not done so since “Thinking of You” in 2009. This song is where we first begin to see a glimpse into Perry’s inner emotions.

On a side note, this album came out after she had divorced Russell Brand. A relationship that everybody was skeptical of. As her movie Part of Me chronicled, the trials of fame and distance didn’t fare well on their relationship and their marriage did not survive.

We next have “Dark Horse” and “This is How We Do.” Great singles, although they weren’t as successful as some of her previous singles had been. “Dark Horse” mixes pop synth and R&B fluently making them sound of one language. “This is How We Do” touches on the mistakes we all just can’t seem to stop making right now. Make sure my mother doesn’t hear this song.

katy-perry-billboard-cover-story-ryan-mcginley-650-430It’s when we finally change vinyls and flip to side C that this album begins to truly unfold. The first part of the album has all the frills, humor, and spunky writing you expect every Perry album to have, but now it was time for the nit grit. It was time to see what Perry was really feeling underneath the blanket of commercial success. She had gone through emotional hell and that wasn’t going by the wayside.

Side C begins with “Ghost,” a diamond in the rough for this album. It talks of how there is now an “Echo where your heart used to be” and that “You’re just a ghost.” The album then immediately goes into “Love Me,” which is easily one of the best sentiments of the album. She says that she must “Love myself the way I want you to love me.” How can you expect someone to love you if you can’t even accept yourself? This is the second semi ballad of the album expressing a simple concept that everyone struggles with.

Jumping down a track, the album then goes into “Double Rainbow.” Although this song seems positive on the outset, it has an eerie feeling behind it. The song discusses how rare double rainbows can be. I wonder if they are so rare that this song is really just speaking of a dream or illusion. Did she actually find a double rainbow as the song proclaims?

Finally, we come to the one true ballad of the entire album “By The Grace of God.” There is no denying this song is a chronicle of her breakup from Brand. Perry’s passionate vocals sore over a simple piano accompaniment showing she doesn’t need all the pop effects to have talent. She revisits the spiritual realm in this song acknowledging the fact that it was only by the grace of God that she survived this time in her life. She croons over the chorus, “And I looked in the Mirror. And decided to stay. Wasn’t going to let love take me out like that.”  A simple march begins in the climax of this song. I felt like it was a march of survival and resilience.

bfe0dd225eae7407d7b3b0d3c9f9f0a9I believe this song is the prelude to what will come next in Perry’s carreer. To say the least, I’m very excited. “By The Grace of God” showed Perry’s writing at its best, her vocals at their most pristine, and her talent in the rawest form. Greater and better things are in store for Perry and I can’t wait to hear the soundtrack.

What I realized after listening to this album a little harder was that I was listening to it all wrong. This isn’t an album made of simple pop anthems. Perry pours her soul into these songs and expresses her emotions from a pivotal experience in her life. These are easily some of Perry’s freshest and truest writings. Sadly, I was listening for another Teenage Dream.

I guess I was just looking through the prism wrong the first time around.

So as I sit here now, nearly 5 years after I saw her concert, I think about how my life has changed and how it hasn’t. I also think about peppermint swirls and dancing sharks. I realize that I have literally lived half of Perry’s songs. She has provided a hint of hope for those of us who still just want to be who we are creatively and stand up for what is right, but are restricted by society. Although her music has morphed into a commercial machine, her writings have not. She is the same Perry not wanting to be one of the boys.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to run down to the drugstore. My lips are chapped, I need some chapstick. I hope they have cherry….

Back in My Mind Again

We all have those “go-to” artists. I have many of them including Judy Garland, Jack Jones,  and Loretta Lynn. My “go-to” artists are the those I am most familiar with, but the other night I listened to one and it struck a different chord with me.

I’m a sucker for every Supremes album I have ever heard and they are one of my top Supremesfavorites. I prefer “The Supremes,” over “Diana Ross and The Supremes.” Their earlier work, with the late Florence Ballard, possess something much different then their later work (don’t get me wrong though, I love Cindy Birdsong).

Although Ross is the lead in both groups, there is just a sense of sincerity, honesty, and unity in their earlier works. When they took Florence out it wasn’t the same.

Last Friday, June 12th, was the 50th anniversary of “Back in My Arms Again” going number one. I did not realize this was one of their number ones, and it was actually their 5th consecutive number one single. I immediately called my mother and asked her if she remembered this song. I then reminded her how old she is.

That evening I listened to the album that features “Back in My Arms Again,” More Hits By The Supremes. This album contains many of my absolute favorite Supremes’ songs including “Nothing But Heartaches,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and the lesser known “The Only Time I’m Happy.”

51bl0wd2zPL._SY300_The back liner notes are littered with pictures of the Supremes and their world reign as the top female group. As I listened and reflected on their career I am just astonished at what these three young ladies from Detroit were able to achieve through music. They are a cultural staple. Their beauty has out lasted decades and their impact on pop culture is profound.

Many credit the Supremes, and Motown, as making African-American performers acceptable in mainstream pop. The Supremes are at the head of this break through. They, along with artists like Mary Wells, Tammi Terrell, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson, were able to rise to fame during America’s difficult Civil Rights Movement. Although they were African-American in segregated America, they still had number one hits and rivaled Beatles fame.

This speaks to the power of music. It doesn’t matter your race, gender, orientation or background, for music transcends all of that. It penetrates straight to your emotions and soul. Due to this phenomenon sometimes history is made and that is exactly what happened with The Supremes. We were taught through their music that music has no tolerance for racism and social immoralities.

It also makes one realize it is never just music. Music, no matter what format, is essential to our history as human beings and a country. It ignites emotions and endorphins that nothing else can. Sometimes it even brings out the best in people and helps correct a long time wrong.

I guess you could say music has a supreme impact.

 

The Madden Brothers, Greetings from California: Mom I’m Done…Will You Still Do My Laundry?

I was angry in High School for no reason in particular. I lived for late night Xanga posts explaining all of my woes. It was such a rebellious part of my life. One time I even quoted the Madonna lyric, “If you can’t handle the heat, then get off of my street,” on my MySpace.

It’s almost as if Michael Jackson said “Who’s Bad?” and I raised my hand cordially.

809dba5113ffb12548f35cdb4bb8aa5dDuring these difficult years of my life when my parents paid all my bills, the Madden Brothers, along with their Good Charlotte band mates, were often the soundtrack of my sorrow. I still remember picking up The Young and The Hopeless album and my mom almost refusing to buy it because Benji’s spikes looked to “hardcore.”

I discovered Good Charlotte in my freshman Oklahoma history class. That is also where I discovered my first crush, who also loved Good Charlotte. I think that explains why I instantly became a Good Charlotte expert.

In the end I didn’t get the girl, but I discovered some great music that I still listen to today.

Years later I still find myself listening to my Good Charlotte CDs. When I first heard Joel and Benji’s “We Are Done,” I was ecstatic about the new sound and their return to music (Did they really leave though?). To be honest, I’m not sure what has taken me so long to write about it. It’s just so painful to relive those years when my mom made all my meals.

Greetings_From_California_Album_CoverAs I did research on the album, I found that this album is intended to be broken into two different sides. Each side has different producers. The first side is intended to be more rock oriented and the second side is to sound like older 70’s pop. It’s clear on the album that there are two distinct ambiences upon each side, but I didn’t necessarily feel it achieved what I read.

Side A begins with the song “Dear Jane,” a song about an embattled relationship that needs to be over. In this time, where everything is done through “text,” I found this to be a cleaver tune. It has a great rock and slight dance vibe to it.

The album then goes on to its first single release, “We Are Done.”  I love the guitar rift and the folksy vibe of this song. The point that as young people we are the ones that must stand up to change things is a message that needs to be taken more seriously.

Side A also contains “U R,” a dedication Joel shows to his children. If you’ve listened to any of Good Charlotte’s music you would quickly learn of the Madden brothers embattled relationship with their father. It seems he taught them what not to be. Being in a similar situation, this is a coming of age realization that many go through. Bravo for giving us this song and showing us we aren’t copies. They 8ac44251db40b7ec759e68cbe6e5e7d2also echo this sentiment on side B with their eerie anthem (throw all your hands up!) “Brother.”

Although I haven’t exactly decided what the message of “Brother” is, it tends to perfectly reflect what divorced and abandoned children deal with in their older years.

Now on to the rest of Side B. This side was less pop and more indie. It begins with “California Rain,” cowritten with Pharrell. This song personifies how perceived paradise comes with its downfalls. Then comes “Bad,” which has a great guitar rift that oddly mirror’s Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” It’s 2014’s version of “Riot Girl.” The album closes with “Empty Spirits.” A song of a love you can’t let go that is wrapped in a dive bar, music, and Lilac Wine.” Joel’s vocals soar on this track. It’s the most stripped down track on the album with minimal string instrumentation and a simple guitar accompaniment.

After listening and reflecting on this album there was something different listening to the Madden brothers in 2015. I began to go back and listen to older Good Charlotte material, literally going all the way back to “Little Things.” I am still in love with The Young and The Hopeless, but this music does not provide some fake rebellious out for me anymore.

the-madden-brothers-joel-madden-benji-madden-capitol-justin-coit-2014-billboard-650I’ve simply grown up. Their older music is a time machine and their new music projects where I am today. Their albums are cemented in the soundtrack of my life. I’ve grown as their artistry has progressed. Their music is in my chronicles of life and death.

It was just such a hard time in my life when I would listen to my new iPod Video while be chauffeured around to hang with friends by my parents. I needed GC’s music for comfort and peace.

And now that I am older, I am thankful for what I had and am excited to see what is to come.

Cheers Benji and Joel!!

Excuse me while I find my MADE jacket….