Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Music Review: Kesha - Rainbow
Well it's safe to say Kesha's former producer Dr. Luke was definitely holding her down. Exhibit A? Her third album Rainbow, an eclectic, defiant, and ultimately triumphant collection of pop, folk, rock, and country-western songs from an artist finally free to make music she truly believes in. Eschewing the rather adolescent, and for me grating sound of her first two records, Rainbow is a major leap in creative maturity and textural nuance that should please both Top 40 radio listeners and those looking for something more sophisticated and personal.
Kesha's folk influence is easily spotted on songs like the hopeful opener "Bastards," which brings to mind the simplistic guitar/vocal arrangements of Edie Brickell and the brutal frankness of Alanis Morrisette. The song offers a reassuring message that no matter how bleak things may seem, one must never let the aforementioned bastards win. This folky vibe can also be found on the saccharin alt-folk tune "Godzilla," which literally places the 400-foot lizard in a mall (a metaphor for falling in love with a suitor the rest of your circle deems unworthy), and on the album's hauntingly atmospheric closer "Spaceship," wherein Kesha states her funereal wish to be picked up by an ancestral spacecraft after she dies (I could totally believe she came from outer space). This song would feel right at home in a Coen brothers film, with its bouncy-but-melancholy guitar riff and gorgeously ethereal backup choir.
Strong country tinges can be found in the Johnny Cash-esque "Hunt You Down," in which Kesha talks about what would happen to a prospective lover were he to "fuck around" on her. The song's derisively mad tone can be summed up with her spoken word line over the bridge: "Baby, I love you so much. Don't make me kill you." Another country tune is the classic rock update of Dolly Parton's "Old Flames (Can't Hold a Candle to You)," which Kesha's mother Pebe Sebert co-wrote. Parton makes a guest appearance sharing lead vocal duties, while the instrumentation sounds very reminiscent of Abbey Road-era Beatles.
Rainbow has plenty of straight-ahead pop songs too, including two Sia-comparable tunes (the upbeat radio pop of "Learn to Let Go," and the sweetly sinister "Boots"), an optimistic anthem for outsiders called "Hymn," and the somber, existential "Finding You," which reminds me of Ella Henderson's "Ghost."
Kesha's vocals, now freed of autotune saturation and tired hip hop tropes, have a free elasticity about them that make her soaring passages feel effortless. Her voice has a piercing quality but also considerable range. The horns-heavy, funk-poppy "Woman," a rebelliously feminist anthem (aimed at our current Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief) sees her roaring at authority figures both political and personal, while on the Eagles of Death Metal-assisted "Boogie Feet" she cuts loose and hams it up, turning her natural quirkiness all the way up on the dial.
But the song that most sums up the spirit of Rainbow is the hymn-like piano single "Praying," a direct address of her issues with Dr. Luke. While the lyrics may be a bit on-the-nose, the emotional connection is nonetheless palpable and her high-road songwriting feels genuine and earned. Instead of vowing revenge on her oppressively stifling former producer, she wishes him a soul-healing epiphany. This poignant piece avoids the typical "victim" stance, adopting instead a sentiment that it's simply time to move on after the years of abuse and torment.
Revealing her true talents with this deeply personal, introspective record, Kesha has unexpectedly converted me into a fan, and like Lady Gaga, has reinvented herself as a thoughtful, multi-dimensional singer/songwriter. I'll be very interested to see where she goes from here, armed with newfound creative freedom.
I give the album ***1/2 out of *****.