Kesha's 'Rainbow' album review: It's cathartic.
Chris Richards, Washington Post
When a pop star survives a humiliating scandal with mettle and grace, is it heartless to call her big comeback album anything less than a triumph? Try listening to Kesha's Rainbow with two fingers pressed to your jugular and you might feel something like this: She's back (that's good), but her lyrics read like a slush pile of rebound tropes (that's bad), but her voice still sounds stretchy like spandex (terrific), and she seems to be steering it into new places (even better). Where, exactly?
"I'm going back home to outer space," Kesha promises over the country thrum of Spaceship , her cosmic vehicle hovering auspiciously over the Nashville skyline.
Music Row or the Pleiades - either destination beats the courtroom purgatory where Kesha Rose Sebert has spent the past few years of her career. In 2014, she filed a lawsuit against her producer and label boss, Lukasz "Dr Luke" Gottwald, claiming that he had "sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abused" her, and since then, legal defeats have prevented her from releasing music outside her deals with him. And with her career in a holding pattern after her 2012 album, Warrior , starrier vocalists snapped up Kesha's contributions and ran - Lady Gaga with the freak-flag felicity, Katy Perry with the affirmative uplift, Miley Cyrus with the rap-curious hedonism.
All of that gives Rainbow an impossible amount of work to do, but Kesha dives right in, pushing her melodies in the direction of catharsis, even when lyrical cliches block the rush. And they do, over and over again. "Nothing's gonna stop me now." "I can breathe again." "Live and learn." "The best is yet to come." All meaningless phrases that undermine her attempts at unburdening her heart.
On top of that, all of the on-the-nose-ness starts to make many of Kesha's stylistic choices feel unimaginative, too. Praying , a piano ballad that addresses her struggles most directly, still sounds like the stuff of Kelly Clarkson. The album's title track pantomimes the band Fun. And Boogie Feet , a collaboration with Eagles of Death Metal, doesn't replicate the electro-punk of Kathleen Hanna's Le Tigre so much as map its genome.
Kesha is far more compelling when she borrows from country music - a genre in which imitation feels less egregious because everyone always appears to be tubing down the cool river of tradition. With Hunt You Down , Kesha delivers a few tongue-in-cheek threats of bodily harm over a vintage click-clack beat, making a smart nod to Miranda Lambert's Mama's Broken Heart . And during the staccato refrain of Learn to Let Go , it's obvious that Kesha has been listening to country's best new syncretist, Maren Morris.
But she sounds most like a country singer when she's singing a bona fide country song: Old Flames (Can't Hold a Candle To You), a Dolly Parton single from 1980 co-written by Kesha's mother, Pebe Sebert. Here, in 2017, Parton actually materialises during the second verse, and hearing her trembling voice alongside Kesha's yowl serves as a helpful reminder about how atypical voices can sometimes become legendary voices.
It's tough to imagine Kesha eventually hanging her star higher than Parton's, but it gets a little easier whenever she starts twisting up her vowels, sending a syllable in one direction and then yanking it back in another. This is an artist who has lost so much but whose voice still very much belongs to her. And in country music, nothing communicates human truth more effectively than one-of-a-kind vowel torquing.
Listen to how Kesha wraps up Spaceship , the album's closing ballad, with a spoken, spaced-out soliloquy. "The wars, the triumphs, the beauty and the bloodshed, the ocean of human endeavor, it all grows quiet, insignificant," she chants in vocal fry, sounding mysteriously pouty and slightly aloof. She's apparently off to search for perspective in deep space, but let's hope it's a bluff. Why not park that rocket in Nashville and see what happens next?
[c] Al Nisr Publishing LLC 2017. All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. ( Syndigate.info ).