BOTTOM LINE Artistic defiance in a variety of pop styles.
Back when she was Ke$ha, her interests mainly seemed to be partying and making money, which are fine, if hollow, musical ambitions. With “Rainbow” (Kemosabe / RCA), Kesha has found numerous causes to embrace and, more importantly, her own artistic voice.
Her lawsuit against her former mentor and label boss Dr. Luke, accusing him of “sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally” abusing her, continues to wind its way through the court system, as does his countersuit. Dr. Luke denies any wrongdoing and has refused to release her from her recording contract.
However, he did allow “Rainbow,” Kesha’s first album in five years, to be released without his involvement. And, well, it has to be seen as a victory for Kesha that it is quantum leaps better than anything she has ever done before.
While her breakthrough hit “Tik Tok,” showed that she was clever, it did not even hint at the artistic depth that she mines throughout “Rainbow.”
The startling singles have already made their mark. The feminist anthem “Woman” struts like a mix of Amy Winehouse and Fifth Harmony. The dramatic piano ballad “Praying” uses her very specific version of events involving Dr. Luke to make universal statements about self-worth and recovery. “You said that I was done,” she sings. “Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come.”
She isn’t kidding. Kesha delivers potent folk-influenced rock (“Bastards”), country (“Hunt You Down”) and even Beatlesque pop (the goofy “Godzilla,” which answers the musical question “What do you get when you take Godzilla to the mall?”).
She even teams with Dolly Parton for a rocking new version of “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You),” a Parton hit that was co-written by Kesha’s mom, Pebe Sebert.
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With “Hymn,” which sounds like “Tik Tok” filtered through Lorde, Kesha shows just how much she has grown with a “hymn for the hymnless,” an anthem where she celebrates her imperfections as part of her strength.