Album Grade: A
Since the release of her last album, Warrior in 2012, Kesha certainly has seen her share of obstacles. For the past several years, she has been caught up in a legal battle with her former producer, Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, which included allegations of rape, intimidation, and various abuses in addition to the usual “creative conflicts.” Aside from all other things, and they are serious, musically Kesha wanted to move in a more “rock” oriented direction while Dr. Luke wanted to continue in a pop-ier “dance rock” vein. Questions of whether or not she would legally be allowed to record or release anything at all led to a “Free Kesha Movement.” In short, the background that preceded, and surrounds, Rainbow is nothing short of an unmitigated mess.
While the various lawsuits and litigation remain unresolved and ongoing, Kesha has assembled a collection of material that is both reflective and powerful. Beginning with “Bastards,” a surprising country-leaning style is revealed as the singer adopts a comfortable swagger in her voice with simple acoustic guitar accompaniment. Additional instrumental ornamentation begins with a simple keyboard before background vocals and drums lend support in a defiant retort to anyone who thought she was about to take any sort of human obstacle sitting down. She forcefully asserts her tone and message of the album from the very beginning.
Teaming up with the Eagles of Death Metal on “Let ‘Em Talk” and “Boogie Feet,” Kesha finally gets to dip into a more rock sound, and the mood is liberating. As the band playing during the terrorist attack at the Bataclan in Paris in 2015, EODM are an interesting choice of collaborator. The music is fierce and liberating as both artists take the opportunity to use the two cuts to expunge old ghosts. This is the sound of refreshing, self-assuredness.
Joining with the Dap-Kings Horns, the fierce, profanity-laced “Woman” proves to be a move of joyful fun. Studio banter between singer and musicians both precede and conclude the feminist-power track and lend way to the free-wheeling spirit that exists throughout the piece. Most of all, the song is just flat-out fun. At one point, Kesha breaks out laughing while singing a verse, and it seems completely “right” that it is kept in. The standout track makes a powerful point but also reveals the softer side of the singer.
The album’s first single, “Praying” is particularly interesting. The music is soft and simple, with delicate background vocal and string flourishes. The lyrics are particularly revealing. Directly addressing her former producer, Kesha uses the track as an opportunity for forgiveness and acknowledgement of how the struggles endured have allowed her growth into a stronger, wiser person. There is grace found in the hope that the song’s recipient may also take the experience as an opportunity for improvement as well. Lyrically, it ends with the hope that “you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’. I hope your soul is changin’, changin’. I hope you find your peace, Falling on your knees, praying” Finding herself resilient and vengeful is to be expected, to hear this approach shows a maturity that is striking for the “Tik Tok” singer. The song builds in vocal intensity and power as she mixes anger, forgiveness, and consequence while simultaneously declaring “I’m proud of who I am.” This is someone who has come through a storm to emerge with a renewed sense of purpose on one of the better songs released this year.
“Hunt You Down” is one of the funniest songs you will hear this year. Professing love to a partner, she also serves notice of the consequences of unfaithfulness on this twangy country-sounding gem. The lyrics are unexpected, darkly detailed, and unbending. Kesha shows that while she may be tough and resilient, she also has not given up on taking herself too seriously either. While played for laughs, this is also not someone you will soon want to cross either.
Kesha’s Rainbow shares more than a few similarities with Katy Perry’s recent Witness album. Both albums deal with overcoming professional and personal hardships. Kesha’s album serves up the stronger, more mature result but is also held together with a strong dose of fun. Whether she is working with EODM or Dolly Parton, on the delightful “Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You),” on Rainbows, Kesha proves that the one person she doesn’t need is Dr. Luke.
Bottom Line: Kesha gathers past trials and pair them with perfect collaborators to create a liberating third release that reveals a defiantly self-confident artist who is not afraid to stand up for herself and still have fun.
Interesting Album Side Note: “Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You)” was originally written by Kesha’s mother Pebe Sebert and her then-husband Hugh Moffatt for country singer Joe Sun. It was later covered by Dolly Parton on her Dolly, Dolly, Dolly album in 1980 and hit #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Funny how things come around like that, huh?
This article was edited by Rachel Wohrlin
Daniel G. Moir is a freelance writer, musician, part-time DJ and baseball enthusiast. Mostly, though, he is among the most passionate music fans and aficionados of our times. He can be contacted at @DMoir5150.
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