There’s no doubt Kesha dominated the pop-sphere during the beginning of the 2010s. Establishing herself through comical lyricism and erffortlessly churning out punchy, over-produced bangers - she crafted a sound that only she could pull off.
Her fourth studio album, ‘High Road’, strikes a perfect balance between her pop roots and the country-inspired gospel takes that formed her previous record, ‘Rainbow’. Just seconds into the record’s opener, Kesha recalls the best night of her life over a piano riff so strenuously soft it’s like being dropped in a time machine back to 2012 when ‘Die Young’ was at its airplay peak. That’s not to say the sound feels regurgitated, in fact, it’s the complete opposite. ‘Tonight’ is Kesha in her purest form, unleashing her authentic pop-self while completing kicking all preconceived limits to the curb following her ongoing lawsuit with producer Dr Luke.
The track builds upon Kesha’s whimsical half-rapped verses before eventually exploding into a celebrational chant reminiscent of the return home from a big night out. The album’s first single, ‘Raising Hell’, might appear a little dated at points with its screeching EDM-drop but its energy and message is full of complete innocuous joy. Title track ‘High Road’ sees Kesha oozing with a newfound care-free attitude, before bursting into a ironic rap about taking the high road in the most Kesha-way possible: “I’m taking the high road / I’m high as f*** and these assholes won’t shut up / I aint losing no sleep.”
Tracks like ‘Shadow’ and ‘Honey’ contrast to the record’s opening cuts and demonstrates Kesha’s ability to cohesively present all facets of her talent. The former puts her punching vocals at the forefront as she builds her land of guilt-free sunshine, while ‘Honey’ acts as a crossover between ‘Rainbow’’s preachy self-acceptance and the wit that formed her earlier records. It’s an audible eye-roll to anyone who tries to duplicate her, built over a simplistic guitar-riff supported by choir-like backing vocals.
The Game Boy referencing, Mario-sampling ‘Birthday Suit’ seems like a recipe for complete disaster but is strangely the most brilliant thing she’s ever done. The eccentric Ke$ha-inspired spoken-word verses (“You like the way I drive, vroom vroom vroom / I shake my booty like boom, boom boom”) against the thumping pre-chorus depicts a tug-and-war between her archetypal party-girl ego and her new mature sound.
This encounter follows onto the self-featuring standout ‘Kinky’, a shimmering dance number that’ll leave you blinded by its euphoric melody and raunchy bassline. Despite a few fillers that fail to pack as much punch as their peers (‘Cowboy Blues’ and ‘Father Daughter Dance’), as a whole they contribute to the objective of the record: a happy middle-ground that manifests Kesha in all her forms.
This objective is echoed throughout, specifically on the theatrical “My Own Dance” to which Kesha boycotts her inner demons and gives birth to her fresh outlook on life: “We get it that you’ve been through a lot of shit / But life’s a bitch, so come on shake your tits and f**k it.” The track digests the principals of the record’s creation; as she recalls a presumed conversation: “You’re the party girl, you’re the tragedy” and replies “But the funny thing’s, I’m f******g everything.”
The reflective ‘BFF’ - featureing album co-writer Wrabel - is so glitzy and diligent you can practically see the singers staring into each other’s eyes, reminiscing on their friendship. And while inclusions like “Potato Song (Cuz I Want To)” are seemingly entertaining (albeit confusing), they reinforce Kesha’s aptitude for sticking to her guns. Why is she singing about growing potatoes on top of a trumpet arrangement? ‘Cause she wants to.
‘Rainbow’ was mentally - and most likely, physically - exhausting for Kesha, having to occupy the different headspaces reflected in the record’s contrasting sounds, as she began to piece herself back together. On ‘High Road’, she searches deep and emancipates the embodiment of sheer delight. Nothing about this record feels forced but instead encapsulates Kesha’s outlook on the crazy and weird rollercoaster that is life itself.
Words: Nick Lowe
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