Album review – Kesha Rainbow
The last few years have been an emotional hell for Kesha and Rainbow attempts to make some sense of her journey.
Any human being with a beating heart would empathize with her troubles even if “Tik Tok” never slipped into your Spotify playlists. A string of club bangers made her a global superstar but it wasn’t all champagne and glitter for Kesha who has bravely stared down her demons over the last few years. Returning with a slightly schizophrenic collection of songs, Kesha showcases undeniable vocal prowess that often deserves better material.
Opening with the predictable “Bastards”, Kesha declares war on those that try to get you down in a less engaging re-write of Savages’ “F**kers”. Given the struggles she has endured, going back to the club banger formula would feel disingenuous so it’s a promising launch point. From Lady Gaga to Miley Cyrus, the pop landscape has shifted towards a more organic sound in the years since Kesha was known as Ke$ha and she is following in their wake. From the “1,2,3,4” count-in to the gentle acoustic guitars, everything about “Bastards” feels calculated to reposition Kesha as an artist. However, the execution doesn’t quite deliver the punch to the guts that Rainbow needs.
“Let ‘Em Talk” takes the sentiment of “Bastards” and adds some fuzzy guitars and a driving punk-lite beat that is more Kelly Clarkson than Pink. Two songs in, all we have learned is “don’t let the bastards get you down” and “don’t let those losers take your magic.” The lack of details in the lyrics takes the wind out of the sails and leaves us with the kind of banal platitudes learned in Disney films. It would be unfair to expect Kesha to jump from “Die Young” to the feminist anthems of Ani Difranco in one album but getting a little closer to the Dixie Chicks would have been a good first step. The Chicks buried a body in “Goodbye Earl” whereas Kesha sings she’s “never hurt nobody” on the vaguely threatening “Hunt You Down”.
On the Dali-esque album cover, a naked Kesha stands in water and looks down a long hallway at a shining light in the distance. Having washed herself clean of her demons, “Woman” is the fearless, funky first step towards a new identity. The Dap-Kings Horns add some undeniable sizzle and Kesha sounds like she’s having a lot of fun dropping f-bombs left and right. On an album that looks down far too many paths, this one stands out as Kesha’s sweet spot – a funky blend of country, soul and pop.
Just as quickly as we get excited for the possibility of promise fulfilled, Rainbow comes almost completely undone by the laughable “Hymn” which serves as an inconclusive anthem for the disaffected youth of today; or something along those lines. Church stays in session for “Praying” which finds salvation in making thinly veiled references to Dr. Luke while proving Kesha can hang with Adele as a vocalist. Her voice is so damn strong that you’re swept away in the sentiments even if they are a far cry from the unadorned honesty of Tori Amos on “Me and a Gun”.
“Learn To Let Go” proves that Kesha can still deliver the goods as a pop star and she relishes the break from the more introspective songs that weigh down the first half of the album. It’s a surefire hit, but we already knew Kesha could do that. “Finding You” shifts gears yet again and wavers between the dance floor and the Nashville roots that Kesha starts to dig up on Rainbow. In a sweet tip of the hat to her mother Pebe Sebert, Kesha duets with Dolly Parton on “Old Flames Can’t Hold A Candle To You” – a song her mom co-wrote and which hit #1 for Parton in 1980. Taylor Swift slid effortlessly from country to pop and Kesha sounds equally capable of moving between genres.
Closers “Godzilla” and “Spaceship” are the sort of charming little pop songs that would have fit perfectly on the Juno soundtrack or a Jill Sobule album in the late 1990s. In an age of Courtney Barnett and Kacey Musgraves, these last two tracks feel like the bright light Kesha sees in the distance on the album cover. With nothing left to prove as a pop star, Kesha’s identity finally comes into focus and she sounds free of the burden that came with being Ke$ha. Consider Rainbow a rocky first step in a very positive direction.