Review: Kesha, Rainbow

Rainbow may not contain the electrobops you expect from Kesha, but it does possess what drew everyone to her in the first place: confidence and sonic booms.
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Kesha "Rainbow" album art

Despite officially blasting out of a glitter cannon and onto the scene a little over seven years ago, Kesha Rose Sebert feels like she’s been around forever. Everything about her look, attitude, and lyrics suggested a girl who might be a mess but definitely knew what she was doing. The more we learned about her, the more we peeled away the layers of an artist who once described her sound as “God having an orgasm.” She popped up in places you least expected it, she earned a nearly perfect SAT score, she cared more about good times than receiving credit. As more layers peeled back as time went on, it came to light that the the pop star introduced to the world as a detached, debaucherous party animal actually cares deeply about her health, her musicianship, and her integrity as an artist.

Her first album in nearly five years, Rainbow suggests the Sebert of the past might not be the one she ever wanted to be in the first place. Similar to how the aspiring T-Pain got turned into into the poster boy for AutoTune, the persona of Ke$ha, sing-talking queen and patron saint of Jack Daniels, seems to have arisen from outside pressure about her image, something even people on her label chastised her for. While both she and T-Pain adapted to and even thrived in these elements, it speaks more to their musical genius rather than their passion for their projects. As fun as Animal is, a common complaint was often made on its sincerity, a quality that in many ways served to enhance Ke$ha’s carefree brand even at her own detriment.

To describe Rainbow's subject matter as personal fails to suffice; Sebert throws it all upon the table, and shows everyone that honesty does kinda sound corny: “When I talk about this to my friends, they laugh at me and tell me I sound like I’m 5 years old — but it’s true, it’s so nice to be nice” Sebert told NPR. Its sincerity acts as both a hindrance and a blessing. On one hand, Sebert sacrifices her trademark snark for more serious tones, and it's hard not to miss the sassy wordsmith behind "Sleazy" and "Boots and Boys". But on the other, her sincerity pushes Sebert in a direction we've had glimpses of in songs like "Hungover" and much of Warrior.

That said, Sebert’s lyrics flow freest when she’s barrelling along at higher speeds, like on “Let ‘Em Talk” and the four-on-the-floor assisted “Finding You”. When slowed down, on anthems like “Hymn”, Sebert lacks the charisma people find compelling about her, and the slow burn of the track does her big personality no favors. However, tongue-in-cheek “Godzilla” demonstrates Sebert stripping back and getting sappy while still retaining a bit of sauce.

As for the more rock chick element of her act, it seems to always have been there as well, poking out in the forms of pounding guitars (“Party at a Rich Dude's House”), collaborators (“Dirty Love” w/Iggy Pop), or shout outs to Mick Jagger's looks. The Eagles of Death Metal appear on two of Rainbow’s tracks, one of which also happens to one of Rainbow’s strongest. “Let ‘Em Talk”, coming right after the intro track, lets Sebert fly down the road, with the top pulled down and the haters left in the dust. Meanwhile, the declarative romp of “Woman” shows off a bit of that country sensibility most forgot she possessed, if they knew it at all.

In fact, when you remember Sebert hails from Nashville, the twangs and yodel sound right at home. The predator behind “Hunt You Down” skips along at a rockabilly pace, more at ease with killing a cheater than just putting him on blast as she would have seven years ago (“Kiss and Tell”). In moments like these where she imbues a classic genre with her own flair, Sebert thrives in a setting few other artists could comfortably tackle and not look ridiculous. And when she adds a bit of pop propulsion to “Boots”, she not only gives it her own oomph, she reveals again the genius of her songwriting talents. “I’m walking on air/Kicking my blues” is a visual, a metaphor, and a juxtaposition all in one. It’s lyrical prose like this which proves why legendary songwriter Dolly Parton also appears on Rainbow.

The fact that her music is much more assured and vigorous than ever before while sounding indisputably Kesha means this artistic direction for Sebert is one she should continue to explore. Rainbow may not contain the electrobops you expect from Kesha Sebert, but at its heart, it does possess what drew everyone to her in the first place: confidence, sonic booms, and an assurance that everything will be alright when the storm clears. B