Kesha – Gag Order

A work of pop defiance...

How does one end an era working under the thumb of your alleged abuser? This will be the last record popstar Kesha releases on Kemosabe, the record label of Lukasz ‘Dr Luke’ Gottwald. No one would have blamed her if she released some wank album as a glorious middle finger to Dr Puke, or squandered as much of his budget as humanly possible. As it turns out, Kesha is a more mature person than this writer; ‘Gag Order’ is an impressively sophisticated pop record.

True to its title, there’s no gasp-worthy news, but the powerful one-liners are enough to make this album’s emotional narrative well and truly clear. “You never know that you need something to believe in when you know it all”, Kesha sings on top of grinding basses and menacing footstomps on the opener. On ‘Eat The Acid’, a mangled voice warns over unnerving synths: 

“You don’t wanna be changed like it changed me…”

Though its instrumental palette is relatively restricted, Kesha’s executive production skillfully distills her musical past into a diverse yet coherent sound. Her country upbringing seeps through the plucked acoustic guitars, whilst influences such as The Flaming Lips make themselves known in Kesha’s more psychedelic moments. 

Sadly, co-producer Rick Rubin’s minimalist philosophy stifles many of the tracks. ‘Too Far Gone’ is a stripped-back yet stunted piano ballad that fails to support Kesha’s unadorned vocals. Meanwhile, ‘Peace And Quiet’ had the makings of a breakout track; its AutoTuned chorus rings a little too shrill against the understated instrumentation, and it only explodes with energy until it’s all too late. 

When the album does decide to break free, however, the results are stunning. Album highlight ‘Only Love Can Save Us Now’ combines Kesha’s distinctive noughties rap flow with her love for country-gospel. It recontextualises her party-rap persona from hedonistic abandon to desperately escapist. The chorus provides a beautifully euphoric anthem, and Kesha’s voice holds its own with the demanding gospel stylings of the track. 

Though some might tune in for its sassy lines, don’t skip over the pockets of happiness. ‘All I Need Is You’ is a gorgeous ode to her longtime partner: “I can have all the cocaine and the pills at every party / But who’s the one that’s gonna care if I can make it home?” These moments, juxtaposed against the whirlwind of legal drama and personal issues, makes Kesha’s whimsical moments even more heartbreaking: “In the next life I wanna come back as a house cat”, she muses on ‘The Drama’. 

I eagerly expected ‘Gag Order’ to be revenge served cold, but by the time I reach ‘Happy’, I understand the dish is left bare. Kesha’s leaving it behind her, and she’s only wishing for peace. Perhaps that’s the biggest fuck you to Mr Snottwald: Kesha’s ended her time with Kemosabe with a record that’s refined in sound and emotionally nuanced. She might be choked by a gag order, but Kesha’s truth rings out loud and clear.

7/10

Words: Alex Rigotti

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