It can be difficult to be evolutionary as an artist when your entire life hangs in the balance of a producer with a name that sounds vaguely like that of a villain from Austin Powers. And yet, Kesha has managed to be just that after a five-year long hiatus from the music world. Her last album, Warrior, began to show signs of Kesha’s interest outside of partying and boys–all while, of course, maintaining her natural love of the emblems of the night: bad decisions, vibrant wardrobe choices and, occasionally, James Van Der Beek. But maybe the fates intervened to redirect her musical style more fully toward the rock/country genre with the Dr. Luke debacle. Or so one would like to believe this was the silver lining reason.
That being said, Rainbow, perhaps auspiciously released on Rocco Ritchie’s birthday, opens with the country-tinged “Bastards” (let us never forget her Nashville roots), a laid-back acoustic melody that establishes Kesha’s ability to turn defeat and underestimation into the determination and drive to go on as she croons, “Been underestimated my entire life/I know people gonna talk shit, and darling, that’s fine/But they won’t break my spirit, I won’t let ’em win/I’ll just keep on living, keep on living, oh/The way I wanna live.”
“Let ‘Em Talk” featuring Eagles of Death Metal (a band that’s been through its own fair share of trauma) expresses a theme Kesha is all too familiar with: being gossiped about. And yet, no one knows better than she that the only thing to do when the gossip mill is running aflurry is to simply let it happen and turn a deaf ear.
The feminist anthem of the summer, “Woman,” serves up Kesha at her party-centric best, the corresponding video exposing her love for the raucous and ribald. The transition to “Hymn” afterward is brilliantly jarring in addressing just how effortlessly Kesha can alternate between tongue-in-cheek empowerment and seriousness. Expounding on Lady Gaga’s whole shtick about being weird and ostracized, Kesha does it better with “Hymn.” As Kesha explains of the track, it’s “a song that is for people who feel like they don’t have a hymn. Growing up I never felt like I fit in anywhere.” Thus Kesha is satyr to the misfits, the socially disenfranchised.
As the first video and glimpse of Kesha’s new, “zen” (read: Kabbalist) aura, “Praying” is a special track, and arguably the one most cutting toward her longtime oppressor. Touting the primary motif of the record, it explores the challenges of the most evolved thing a human being can do: forgive a person that’s done her wrong and wish him well, to boot.
“Learn to Let Go” elaborates on “Praying” with a more playful approach, the video for it featuring home movies of Kesha as a child as her adult self learns to reconnect with the childlike innocence and predilection for happiness that the naïveté of youth automatically permits. And Rainbow, of course, is a record that encourages, if nothing else, a rekindling of one’s sense of wonder.
Revealing a side (and intermittent Shakira lilt) that proves she hasn’t given up on her faith in love, “Finding You” possesses a certain 60s acoustic carefreeness as Kesha sings, “I know forever don’t exist, but after this life, I’ll find you in the next.” Written with her longtime boyfriend, Brad Ashenfelter, in mind, the sentiment is an unwitting homage to Kurt Vonnegut, a firm believer in his self-created term, “karass,” meaning a group of people forever linked on a spiritual level.
“Rainbow,” the very first song Kesha wrote for the album–and therefore the fitting album title–is the crux of the record, created during a time when Kesha was making it through the tumult and darkness of her depression while at one point in rehab for the eating disorder that culminated with Dr. Luke telling her she looked like a “fucking refrigerator.” Going back to the lyrical vibe of “Learn to Let Go,” Kesha assures, “Deep down I’m still child, playful eyes wide and wild” and that, in spite of it all, “What’s left of my heart is still made of gold.”
Another homage to her country roots–and seemingly Johnny Cash himself–“Hunt You Down” is one of the most unique tracks on the album, channeling Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City” as Kesha forewarns her lover, “Just know that if you fuck around, boy, I’m gonna hunt you down.”
The second collaboration with Eagles of Death Metal, “Boogie Feet,” possesses a more jocular tone than “Let ‘Em Talk” as Kesha begs “dance with me dance with me please/Or are you scared of my boogie feet?” The dare to join her on the dance floor is one that proves hard to resist, especially with the following track, “Boots,” with its neo-hoedown sound à la Lily Allen’s “It’s Not Fair.” Not to be confused with “Boots and Boys” from Animal, “Boots” is in sharp contrast to the aforementioned similarly titled track. Though Kesha was once, shall we say, a bit more free-spirited, “Boots” analyzes her sudden transformation into a woman who can suddenly see the value of monogamy. At first the confident and carefree tumbleweed, Kesha declares, “I have boys in every country code/Just a rolling stoner on a roll.” Her unexpected encounter with someone we’ll assume is Brad changes her perspective as she rehashes, “Then I met you Saturday night, I tried to run away/Sunday morning, I woke up fucked up, with you right next to me/Had a flight booked to Japan, but you took me by the hand/Now every morning I wake up with you right next to me.”
A remake of a remake, basically, “Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle to You)” was written by Kesha’s own madre, Pebe Sebert, and so it’s only natural that the daughter of this country songwriting powerhouse should remake it. With no less than the legend herself, Dolly Parton.
The whimsical “Godzilla” is open to interpretation to those envisioning the sight of taking Godzilla to the mall, but naturally, there’s so much more to it than that. Another collaboration with her mother, who wrote it several years ago, Kesha commented, “It like reminds me of Brian Wilson’s ‘Vegetables’ song. It’s just so bizarre but brilliant and beautiful and strange.” At its core, “Godzilla” acknowledges that sometimes the person you love can only truly be appreciated and understood by you. And that, again, it really doesn’t fucking matter what anyone else thinks.
Blasting off the end of the album is “Spaceship” (in keeping with Rainbow‘s artwork), another soulful acoustic mid-tempo track acknowledging Kesha’s feelings of being too fragile and out of place for this planet. But hey, at least, as she says, “Nothing is real. Love is everything. And I am nothing.”
For those with the Japanese version, the bonus track, “Emotional,” completes the record–one that has been an epic journey in the making, not to mention more than somewhat of a “fuck you” to Dr. Luke, recently “released” from Sony. Rainbow is, in fact, on the producer’s Kemosabe label, Kesha having the last laugh as she puts out the music she wants to without enduring the verbal and physical abuse she formerly had to for her art.