We’ve still got another five months to go until the year’s end, there is a certainly a clear frontrunner for the most pleasant surprise of the last 12 months. Do you remember a nearly a decade ago when the phrase “wake up in the morning feeling like P Diddy” entered our cultural milieu? Ke$ha managed to represent an alternative side to female empowerment while also being completely unbearable. Honestly, it’s been eight years and I still can’t understand the actual appeal of songs such as ‘Blah Blah Blah’ or ‘Your Love Is My Drug’. After the initial spark and a fairly lukewarm second LP, it seemed as though the singer would be a simple flash in the pan, memorable only to pop culture aficionados and “Where Are They Now?” lists. But then came the court case. Ke$ha filed a motion against her manager Dr. Luke for a litany of heinous deeds including sexual assault and battery, sexual harassment, gender violence, and emotional abuse. Ultimately the courts sided with Dr. Luke and Sony Music, but Ke$ha has been seen now to be able to turn the fury, fire, and new-found freedom into something positive and empowering for both herself and many others. Now Kesha, reborn without the dollar sign, has released a genuinely great record in the form of Rainbow.
One of the great strengths of the album is that it is, in fact, an album. This isn’t a collection of songs hobbled together hastily to shift units. There is a clean thematic through line that runs the duration of the LP. It is about the various methods of overcoming trauma be it via hedonism (‘Let ’em Talk’), bitter forgiveness (‘Praying’) or sheer force of will (‘Learning To Let Go’). But running parallel to this is this incredibly empowering streak. Kesha is taking pride and finding power in that which would have previously been used to hold her down. The best example of this is the highlight ‘Woman’ which is a top to bottom classic. Using the Dap-Kings as a locomotive to fuel the track, Kesha embraces the full prowess and energy of funk and spits out these confident lyrics which lacerate the target of her scorn. It is a contender for track of the year. Within this same mould, you’ve got the Ben Folds produced ‘Rainbow’, which is another magical piece. Rather than funnelling the pain and frustration and projecting outwards in an offensive movement, the song is much more built around using those feelings to reinforce one’s sense of self. It’s a positive message, which sounds a bit Katzenjammer-y and is a delight. Mostly though it fits thematically, and hearing all these separate ideas meld together and become a cohesive whole is a thing of beauty. It’s disappointingly rare to find a record that can be viewed as a singular object and even rarer to find it in a pop context.
Another small treat is the integration of country music. Not the abysmal bro-country of Toby Keith and that ilk but proper Nashville stuff. Kesha grew up in that city and has always tried to funnel some of that influence into her music and now it’s evident why that was a solid idea. ‘Hunt You Down’ is a fun cut which lyrically calls to mind the Beatles’ ‘Run For Your Life’, where ‘Bastards’ and ‘Spaceship’ get to play with the stripped back side of things. It’s a small touch, but this influence does lend an already kaleidoscopic collection an extra few colours. Plus it’s got Dolly Parton alright. There are few moments in life that are not drastically improved by an appearance of Parton.
While there is a clear idea and thought process, there is some filler. ‘Godzilla’ is sweet but doesn’t actually add a huge amount musically or lyrically to the palette. ‘Boots’ has similar problem. The words are a simple story of a one night stand that turns into something more. It’s a basic tale that does work within the context, but musically it’s not very interesting. Where the rest of the record includes all these various soul, country and funk influences, hearing a straightforward club belter doesn’t cut the mustard. But outside of these two cuts, you’ve got what is easily one of the best pop albums of the year. It’s bouncy and jubilant with a welcome dose of darkness and pain lingering under the surface. Shocking as it may seem to some, Kesha nailed it. Will Murphy