The last place you might expect to find Katy Perry is lying on the bathroom floor, apparently contemplating suicide.
Yet there she is, in By the Grace the God, a surprisingly stark, stately track on Prism (out Tuesday), Perry's follow-up to Teenage Dream, the 2010 sophomore effort that secured her status as the reigning queen of feel-good pop.
"Thought I wasn't enough/ Found I wasn't so tough," Perry sings. But then the tone shifts to something more inspirational. Perry picks herself up; "I looked in the mirror and decided to stay," she declares.
That pretty much sums up the message of Prism, which finds Perry stretching herself beyond the sugar-coated sparkle of Dream in search of higher forms of empowerment. There is a self-consciously spiritual vibe to some of the material; on the sitar-laced Legendary Lovers, she asks a new partner to "say my name like a scripture."
Love Me and Unconditionally suggest electronically enhanced self-help manuals. The former advocates self-love as a prerequisite for any successful relationship, while on the latter she pledges to accept a love interest's "insecurities" and "dirty laundry," urging him to "open up your heart and just let it begin."
Perry turns pensive on the more subdued Ghost, plainly haunted by ex-husband Russell Brand. But the heart of Prism lies in more upbeat tunes — most written with Dr. Luke and Max Martin, the album's chief producers — that often build from airy verses to dense, pounding choruses.
There are also straight-out party anthems such as This Is How We Do, a breathless ode to "ladies at breakfast in last night's dress." In her spiritual quest, Perry clearly hasn't forsaken the flesh: On the sultry Dark Horse, she purrs to guest Juicy J of a love that "will make you levitate."
On Birthday, a sweetly naughty Perry vows, over lithe grooves and funky horns, to give her lover "something good to celebrate," and on the '90s house-music homageWalking On Air they "go deeper and harder than ever before," she sings ecstatically.
What strikes us most on Prism, though, is Perry's lust for life itself, a quality that's genuine and endearing enough to redeem a few pop cliches.