Six years ago, when Teenage Dream tied the chart record set by Michael Jackson’s Bad with five No. 1 hits off one album, Katy Perry became the modern paragon of the singles artist. Armed with Max Martin and Dr. Luke’s calculated approach to ear-wormery, Perry dominated pop radio more than anyone else for the first few years of the decade. Since then, the format wars have shifted towards streaming, and with it, more pop superstars have tried to make the shift to album artist. Prism, Perry’s 2013 album, was a small step in this direction, but it suffered from classic Pop Album Syndrome: trend-hopping around genres and tempos with nary a thought of cohesion. But as cloying as the piano line in “Roar” has become, the big singles saved Prism from flop status. Besides, as Luke himself once said of Perry’s first two albums, “If you can make huge first and second records, if you have a third record that sucks, you can still do a fourth record, no problem.”

So what happens when your fourth record kinda sucks, too?

Katy Perry now finds herself in this position, and the reason is twofold. Her attention to detail pales next to that of album-minded peers like Beyoncé, Drake, and Lorde, and her poorly chosen singles often rely on eye-rolling gimmicks, even for someone who used a large poop emoji as a live prop. Not thoughtful enough to be album pop, not catchy enough to be singles pop: there is no real way to root for Witness—tone-deaf PR campaign included. (Seriously: I got a press release about watching Perry’s “shockingly honest” therapy session, the canned nature of which made her 2012 doc Part of Me resemble Don’t Look Back.)

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To her credit, Perry’s sound is more consistent and tasteful here than it has ever been, as she explores the midtempo via atmospheric electronics and bleeding-heart pianos. For as omnipresent as executive producer Max Martin is, the hooks just don’t sink in the way they used to. Or perhaps it’s that as soon as you get into a groove, Perry goes and says something truly cringe-worthy to pull you right out. It’s bad enough to put up with her constant hokeyness, her clichés and mangled metaphors, but when she takes an audible breath and tearily declares her decision to… save the email as a draft on the Lorde-jacking power-ballad “Save As Draft,” you will question her ability to separate modern mundanity from actual depth. The world does not need a hoary sequel to “Email My Heart” lest Perry double down and joke about how she’s “setting an out-of-office reply” for love, but instead she shrugs one of the record’s worst, most inscrutable lines: “I don’t fuck with change, but lately I’ve been flipping coins a lot.”