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Kesha Rides the ‘Rainbow’ to Freedom on Colorful, Cathartic New Album: Review

Written by on May 18, 2016

Kesha has been to hell and back and lived to tell the tale⎯⎯well, several actually. Rainbow, the artist’s deeply-visceral and musically-adventurous new collection of music, is her opus: an assortment of stunningly intimate musings, defying battle cries on womanhood and empowering tributes to the outcasts in search of redemption. She’s been a “prisoner of the past” for far too long, as she sings on “Learn to Let Go,” but that pain has led her to freedom.
Following her very public war against alleged abuser and long-time producer Dr. Luke, the now-30-year-old exposes every layer of her healing. She vows to forgive, as she does so bravely with lead single “Praying,” and shakes off her demons completely on other tracks, like on “Learn to Let Go.” Her ascension from tragedy to artistic rebirth is astonishing, and she walks listeners through each stage of her recovery over the past five years, fervently pouring her heart out through the most insightful lyrics of her career.
On Rainbow, she honors her sloshy pop-punk roots (“Let ‘Em Talk,” “Boogie Feet”) but trades up her creative ambitions for gritty alt-country (“Hunt You Down,” “Boots”), blues (“Woman”) and striking singer-songwriter sentiments (“Rainbow,” “Godzilla”). The compositions are earthier, here; her rock-queen vocal heaves into the stratosphere, always on top of the production, knocking you squarely across the chest. Across the record, the spiritual narrative swells from intensely personal to sweeping and universal. With whom Newsweek has dubbed “Lazy Boy” as president of the free world, there is no better time for actual purposeful pop than right in this moment. (Katy, what’s good?)
Rainbow, out August 11, serves as a heart-wrenching love letter to survivors of abuse, too, knit lovingly with empowerment, shimmery optimism and happy endings. Truly, it is in her darkest moments that hope shines the brightest. Across fourteen songs, Kesha comes clean about “the wars, the triumphs, the beauty and the bloodshed, the ocean of human endeavor.” She now rises victorious over her detractors, a slayer of the industry demons and energy vampires who sought to bleed her dry. And so, Kesha is a testament to what happens when you lay claim to your own life and never give up.
Below, we dissect Rainbow, track-by-colorful-track.
Mounting a comeback is a risk on its own, but to open a record with such a stylistically-ambitious ballad is brave. The T. Rex-influenced jam is doused with alt-country inflections, from the way Kesha flitters into her head voice to the surging ripples of steel guitar that groan like a classic Johnny Cash tune. (The tone of the acoustic guitar borrows a structure often associated with country music, too.) Kesha keeps you on your toes: just when you think you can nail the song down, she begins building the track with a soulful, hippie-smoked layering of harmony and scratchy synth waves that wash over you before you ever have a chance to take a breath. “I could fight forever but life’s too short / Don’t let the bastards get you down / Oh no, don’t let the assholes wear you out,” she hisses. But resentment is not informing her phrasing. Instead, she relishes in the s—-talking and resolves to prove everyone wrong. And boy, does she ever.
“Let ‘Em Talk”
Long-time stans, don’t fret: Kesha doesn’t abandon her old stomping ground entirely. Joined by Eagles of Death Metal, a rock outfit out of the late 1990s, the pop star is at her feistiest here. She knows her haters are gonna talk, so why not make them a little jealous? Melting together distinctly more progressive rock with a style akin to “Dirty Love” (from 2012’s Warrior), she begins piecing the past and future together in noticeably exciting ways. “Life is short and we only got one shot / So, let’s go balls out,” she wails over a mighty crest of hardened guitar, buoyant “ooo”s and a raucous Rolling Stones-sized melody. When she snarls up the notes on the pre-chorus, it is evident her transformation into one of today’s most engaging rock singers is final. “Shake that ass / Don’t care if they talk about it,” she commands on the spunky hook. Even when the groove feels eerily familiar, Kesha brings her own unstoppable vigor and brightness, and it feels like she’s shattering the glass ceiling in the process: “We are kings / Life is just a party palace.”
“Woman” ft. the Dap-Kings Horns
With band members who once backed the late, great Sharon Jones, this bluesy number is a direct response to Trump’s gross p—y-grabbing comments. “That made me so infuriated, as a hardcore feminist. Ever since I was a kid and knew what a feminist was, I was a feminist. (I was) raised by a feminist,” the singer explained in an interview. “Once I heard that [comment] I was like, okay, well, I’m going to write this song about being a bad— motherf—ing woman who you don’t want to f— with.” A grin splashed across her face in the music video for the song, Kesha unfurls one infectious and audacious hook: “I’m a motherf—ing woman, baby all right / I don’t need a man to be holding me too tight, I’m a motherf—ing woman / I’m just having fun with my ladies here tonight…I’m a motherf—er.” From her charming and delightful chuckle in the second verse to the visual’s slinked-back breeziness, the song serves as a reminder just how damn strong and fun she is.

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