Kesha – Rainbow

Kesha – Rainbow

Kesha Returns with a Surprisingly Half-Decent Album, Which Is at Its Best When She Embraces Her Triumphant Sense of Joy


Years removed from her best known single “TiK ToK” and following a prolonged legal battle with skeevy collaborator Dr. Luke, Rainbow shows a very different side of the singer formerly known as Ke$ha. It’s silly, disheveled and overwrought but, still, not without its charms.

Rating: 5.5/11


Whatever ultimately went down between Kesha and producer Dr. Luke, it was some fucking ugly business. When her claims of sexual assault, harassment and gender violence at the hands of Dr. Luke were dismissed by a New York Judge last year, there were certain phrases from the ruling that stood out as particularly nasty. For instance, Kesha’s claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress were dismissed because “claims of insults about [Kesha’s] value as an artist, her looks, and her weight are insufficient to constitute extreme, outrageous conduct intolerable in civilized society.” Additionally, the hate crime filings were dismissed because “every rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime.


This is all worth bringing up in the context of Kesha’s new album Rainbow, which has been touted as something of a rebirth for the artist, both creatively and as a person who has suffered immense hardships over most of the last decade. As far as rebirths go, it’ll probably remind you less of a graceful phoenix rising from the ashes then Keanu Reeves stumbling out of his cryogenic pod in The Matrix, wide-eyed and spluttering. Or maybe Jim Carey emerging from a rhino’s arsehole in Ace Ventura 2. All to say that it’s messy, ungraceful and a little cringey, but never boring.

Like almost every pop album ever made, Rainbow is disproportionately top-heavy. It kicks off with “Bastards”, a guitar ballad of startling power and sincerity. The lyrics are rousing but nothing too flash, though it’s Kesha’s winning delivery, paired with such an unabashedly simple sound, that makes the track what it is. Listening to it for the first time, hearing the woman who sang “Your Love is My Drug” land on a sound so serene and unerringly pleasant, it actually shocked me. Honestly, it’s a real damn shame when the stadium effect takes over in the last minute of the track, with those vapid “Na-Na, Hey”s and the skywards sonic palette, ’cause otherwise this could’ve been one of the best songs of 2017.

Next up, there’s “Let ‘Em Talk”, the first of two collaborations with The Eagles of Death Metal. Again, it’s very unexpected how much Kesha’s snarl and holler suits (and quickly enhances) the generic romper rock on display here. Aided by some goofy but well-deployed synths, the chorus aims for anthemic and – by the grace of Kesha’s shimmying grin and carefree stance – gets very fuckin’ close to it. It’s not a great song, but it continues the confident streak that propels the album forward for at least the next fifteen minutes.

The following track is the big band bluster and groove of previously-released single “Woman”, which is indebted to the stylings of The Dap-Kings Horns. It makes for the strongest song on the record by far, something Kesha seems well aware of if her giggle fit on the second verse is anything to go off. Seriously, aside from Kesha’s empowered pomp and keen sense of when to let the music speak for itself, the best compliment I can give this song is how much the breakdowns remind me of the immortal “Busy Earnin’“, which is the greatest example of a horn section carrying a track in the last eight years.

Moving on, “Hymn” continues Kesha’s trend of landing on an entirely different genre to what’s preceded it and competently working within those specific confines. Amidst a twinkly soundscape and kick-drum/hand-clap rhythm that’s just a single hi-hat trill away from being a Future song, Kesha sidles around like a wispy specter, with her slightly glitchy vocals and insouciant attitude buoying the track. Finally, the incredibly histrionic “Praying” – with its shameless Lemonade rip-off of a music video – finds its place here as the fifth track, acting as an emotional catharsis to the more detached, above-it-all songs that have come before. I wouldn’t say it exactly feels earned, but it is certainly done more favours in context of the album than outside of it.

Honestly, though, after the first five tracks the pickings become extremely slim on the rest of Rainbow. “Learn to Let Go” falls with a thud into the generic power anthem that “Let ‘Em Talk” avoided, even with a mildly intriguing ramp-up dynamic to the melody on the chorus. I don’t think I even need to begin explaining how jarring “Finding You” is, the first of a few songs about everlasting love on an album that (up to this point) has screamed to be independent from male designs, romantic or otherwise. And the Ben Folds-produced “Rainbow” has every hallmark of a Disneyfied pop ballad, saccharine enough to make you feel ill and have your skin crawl rather than covered in goosebumps.

While “Bastards” had me thinking that Kesha could have a seriously promising career as a contemporary country/folk singer in the style of Kacey Musgraves, the ratchet, honky-tonk bullshit of “Hunt You Down” quickly disabused me of that notion. It should also go without saying that, when making a basic-arse Johnny Cash knockoff, it’s best to avoid name-dropping “I Walk the Line”. Meanwhile, when The Eagles of Death Metal show up for a second time on Rainbow, it’s in aid of the distinctly unpleasant “Boogie Feet”, which answers the question “The Ting Tings weren’t that insufferable, were they…?”

The final stretch of Rainbow consists of the unremarkable “Boots”, the too-stupid-for-words “Godzilla” and the overlong but likable enough “Spaceship”, but in the middle of all that there’s a gem of a track: “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You)”, sung with living legend Dolly Parton. It has every feature of a great country song, from its persistent pedal steel twang and down on my luck vibe to the lilting vocals of, in case you missed it, Dolly fuckin’ Parton! Along with its earnest lyrics, just clever enough title and plaintive sound, it’s a fantastic palate cleanser after the woeful “Hunt You Down”, and yet another reason to believe that maybe Kesha’s next album should just be a collection of duets with old school country heroes. I, for one, would kill for a Willie Nelson collaboration.

It goes without saying that, aside from the considerable dip in quality of Rainbow‘s second half, there’s little sense of a cohesive structure to this thing. There’s a weirdly appropriate rise and fall to the first five tracks, but afterwards everything feels cobbled together in a manner that seems to suggest no real interest in trying to form an actual listening experience rather than a mauled, shuffle-ly mixtape. Oh, and even though there are some occasional gems of vulgarity in here (Kesha telling the haters to suck her dick on “Let ‘Em Talk”, followed by a mouth pop, is glorious), someone really oughta let Kesha know that the more often you employ the term “motherfucker”, the less edgy it seems.

Still, as mentioned, it’s hard to fault Rainbow on two fronts. For one thing, when Kesha fully embodies the mood of a song, it charges the music and her delivery into something incendiary; if nothing else, she has a tremendous sense of when to push forward with everything she’s got. And, despite such mixed success across the board, there are very few moment of utter stagnation here. Rainbow is a triumph of spectacle and bluster, if not necessarily consistent quality, so much so that the times when it does succeed make it a lot harder to be too critical of its lesser endeavours.

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