Kesha dabbles in new sounds on ‘Rainbow,’ finding herself for first time
It’s no secret that Kesha has had a difficult few years.
The artist says that her creative growth was stunted by her producer, Dr. Luke, who, she says, forced her into a more manufactured pop star image and prevented her from creating the music she really wanted to make.
Kesha and Dr. Luke were also embroiled in a long legal battle, with Kesha suing the producer, claiming he sexually harassed her. Dr. Luke launched a countersuit, suing Kesha for defamation and breach of contract.
Now, after finally separating herself from the troubled relationship with Dr. Luke, Kesha returns with her third record, “Rainbow.” It’s been five years since her sophomore record, so the main question on many people’s minds is whether or not this extended break between records and the separation from Dr. Luke has allowed Kesha to grow as an artist.
The answer is that Kesha has undoubtedly grown, but she also has some room for improvement.
The clearest change Kesha has undergone in the past few years is a near-total abandonment of the electropop with which she originally rose to prominence. Fans who were hoping for rehashings of the sounds of “TiK ToK” and “We R Who We R” will be disappointed.
Kesha has eschewed collaborators like Pitbull in favor of a handful of artists from a variety of genres. She looks to the Eagles of Death Metal to add a dash of pop rock; The Dap-Kings Horns pepper in some Motown-style brass; Dolly Parton adds her twinge of old school country.
The smattering of genres, though, might be my biggest gripe with the structure of the album. Kesha moves through these disparate genres with surprising deftness, but there is a lack of cohesion to the project as a whole.
Take, for example, the opening few tracks.
“Bastards,” a folky tune with twinges of country, leads off the album with the first of many illusions to her struggles with Dr. Luke (“Don’t let the bastards take you down, / Don’t let the assh*les wear you out,” she croons on the chorus).
Next, “Let ‘Em Talk,” the first of two songs featuring the Eagles of Death Metal, is a rip-roaring pop rock anthem, which might be the most fun song on the record. Kesha continues her themes of being true to yourself established in the first track, this time applying it to what’s sure to be an earworm plaguing me for months to come.
But things get a little bit weird on the next track, “Woman.” The Dap-Kings Horns supply an incredible horn-based instrumental while Kesha barks out affirmations of her femininity which could easily come across as either powerful or a bit cringe-worthy (“I’m a motherf*ckin’ woman!”). This track could easily have been very good with a bit more attention paid to it; Kesha totally blows the second verse by laughing through the whole thing, making her lyrics incomprehensible and her voice tuneless.
These tracks are all strong in their own right, but when played back to back, the quick switches between genres can begin to feel a bit like some “best-of” material, as opposed to a carefully planned album.
Kesha dabbles in some ballads on the record, including “Praying,” which might serve as the central thesis statement of the album. She speaks to someone who has hurt her — it’s easy to assume we’re talking about Dr. Luke here — saying that she doesn’t need this individual, and that she hopes they are praying for redemption.
The problem is that Kesha doesn’t have the vocal strength to carry tracks like this. This track and others like it would be perfect for the smooth bombast of a singer like Adele, but Kesha resorts to getting a bit screechy to give her voice power. Add in a sloppy whistle-register attempt in the final moments of the track, and you have a track that falls apart under its own weight.
But while Kesha doesn’t have the power to blare out power ballads like “Praying,” she does excel at the catchy pop singles. While “Rainbow” is a record about an artist dealing with pain, the artist in question does her best work when she channels that pain into something fun and positive.
“Rainbow” is a moment of growth for Kesha. She’s still struggling to find her real voice and the sounds that suit her best. But, considering that this is the first time she’s actually been allowed to experiment in the sounds she wants to, it’s a commendable effort. Perhaps it’s best to think of “Rainbow” not as Kesha’s third record, but rather as the first record by a new Kesha.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6119 or on Twitter @PatKernan
Label: Kemosabe, RCA
Best Track: ‘Let ‘Em Talk’
Worst Track: ‘Praying’