It’s been a huge five years since Kesha’s last album, 2012’s Warrior, though this gap was not the decision of Kesha herself. Rather, it was the result of a lengthy lawsuit between Kesha and her former producer. But so much has already been written about the case (we’ve discussed it both here and here), and this constant framing of Kesha’s work within the context of the lawsuit threatens to overshadow the music itself. In fact, it feels like a disservice to Kesha to allow some skeezy producer to share her limelight when he has had no hand in producing this album. So let’s leave it there.
Rainbow is the long-awaited comeback from the wildchild of pop, but Kesha has done a lot of growing up in the five years since Warrior. She’s still the same foul-mouthed free spirit, but gone is the EDM arrangement and the brash, auto-tuned voice. On Rainbow, Kesha embraces her natural (and powerful) vocals, as well as a range of genres spanning from rock to country to dance.
The theme of Kesha’s third LP is undoubtedly liberation. Liberation from hatred, from sadness and from men. We learn this right from the beginning, opening track ‘Bastards’ seeing Kesha assert herself against bullies and haters who have tried to crush her spirit. It’s a surprisingly subdued opener, an acoustic track on which Kesha sings over strummed guitar before a dawning, triumphant finale closes in. But any thoughts that this would signal a quieter, more understated third album are quickly quashed as the frantic guitar snarl of ‘Let ‘Em Talk’ kicks in. It’s the first of two collaborations with Eagles Of Death Metal, the second being the slick ‘Boogie Feet’. With its neat, clipped production, the latter is one of the closest glimpses we get to Kesha’s original sound, albeit after a hard rock makeover. It’s a surefire sign that Kesha has lost none of her sense of fun since she’s been away, it being a flamboyant, fantastically bombastic bit of rock pop.
The album’s title track sits at its centre. ‘Rainbow’ was composed during a spell in rehab and written on a toy piano. Kesha has described it as “a promise that things would get better”, the track accompanied by a full orchestra as it builds to a soaring, hopeful conclusion. It’s fitting that ‘Rainbow’ should be the album’s title track, it encapsulating the mood of the record, one of reflection, change and, most importantly, hope.
Similar sentiments are found throughout the album. ‘Learn To Let Go’ sees an optimistic Kesha ready to leave the past behind and step boldly into the future while lead single ‘Praying’ focuses on redemption and forgiveness. Elsewhere, the jubilant ‘Woman’ is a celebration of all things feminine, allegedly inspired by Donald Trump’s infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” remark. The track opens with Kesha cutting short a man urging her to get serious. “Shut up,” she snaps back, in no mood to suffer men. In fact, men are largely absent from Rainbow, Kesha keeping the focus on herself and her fellow women. On the few instances they are mentioned, it’s with more than a touch of irony. ‘Hunt You Down’, for example, has Kesha threaten to find and murder any man who fucks her around.
Pebe Serbert, Kesha’s mother, serves as co-writer on six tracks. One was originally written back in the 70s, becoming a hit for Joe Sun before Dolly Parton covered it in 1980. Ms Parton pops up here to take on the track again, performing a duet of ‘Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You)’ with Kesha, one of many country tracks on a diverse and constantly surprising album.
‘Godzilla’, the penultimate track, is an absurdist, twee ditty that imagines taking the fictional dinosaur on a date to the mall. Predictably, Godzilla causes carnage, but Kesha remains nonplussed, her feelings for the reptilian monster unwavering. It feels fitting that the album’s purest love song should be dedicated to a huge lizard rather than a bloke. A similarly charming track completes the record. ‘Spaceship’ is a jangly and cutesy oddity on which Kesha yearns to return to her native planet. These closing tracks, the most lo-fi on an otherwise heavily produced album, are perhaps the best. They showcase a side of Kesha that was previously buried beneath layers of electronics and glittery facades, a starkly human side that is more affecting and intriguing than the party monster persona that debuted in 2009.
Rainbow is (as the title suggests) a colourful and dazzling album that combines hard-hitting confessionals with playful bits of explosive pop. This is Kesha’s most experimental and daring album to date, and you get the distinct impression it’s the one she’s been dying to make from the very beginning.