Kesha has been put through the ringer since the release of her last album, Warrior, in 2012. As well as undergoing a stint in rehab for her bulimia, she’s been entangled in a high-profile legal battle with Dr Luke that effectively put her music career on hold. Although her fight for justice is still ongoing, Rainbow marks the triumphant return of Kesha to the music world, and she has a lot to say on this record.
Rainbow is a major departure from her previous releases, both sonically and thematically. As well as dropping her dollar sign moniker, gone is the drunken party girl schtick that permeated Animal and Warrior. Instead, Rainbow is a story of struggle and endurance, as Kesha lets the world know that she’s back and stronger than ever. It’s a refreshing change of pace for Kesha, resulting in a far more authentic and personal record.
The album opens with “Bastards”, an acoustic track that showcases Kesha’s vocal ability. It will come as a shock to those used to hearing Kesha’s pop anthems, as the autotuning of her past music is nowhere to be found. It sets the tone for the rest of the album, as she offers some hard-learned life lessons to her listeners: “Don’t let the bastards take you down, don’t let the assholes wear you out, don’t let the mean girls take the crown, don’t let the scumbags screw you ’round.” Kesha is sick of being overlooked and underestimated, and perhaps she’s ditched the filtered vocals because she feels as though she has something to prove with Rainbow.
The first of two collaborations with Eagles of Death Metal, “Let ‘Em Talk”, is pretty overwhelming. The lightning-fast delivery during the chorus turns the lyrics into a blur, and the heavy-handed production drowns out Kesha’s singing. The song could have been a lot more enjoyable if they had taken it down a notch in the studio. “Boogie Feet” is by far the superior track. The absurd vocals and energy-infused production makes for an instant smile-inducer. The gamer inside me also appreciated the Super Mario coin sample.
One of the album highlights is “Woman”, possibly the most empowering and catchy song Kesha has ever released. The combination of the Dap-Kings’ horns with Kesha’s defiant vocals is utterly irresistible; One listen and you’ll be completely hooked. Kesha is unstoppable as she asserts her independence from men and unabashedly celebrates women everywhere, declaring that she’s a “motherfucking woman baby, that’s right.” She even wrote an accompanying essay for “Woman” for Rolling Stone magazine, saying “I just really fucking love being a woman and I wanted an anthem for anyone else who wants to yell about being self-sufficient and strong.”
“Hymn” is song about self-love dedicated to all of the misfits in society. Melodically, it sounds like a carbon copy of an Imagine Dragons track. It’s nothing particularly groundbreaking, but the hook has an immediate appeal that’s hard to deny. Next up is “Praying”, a career-defining release from Kesha. This gospel-style ballad introduced the world to a new chapter in her musical story, and received critical acclaim for its poignancy and vulnerability. “Praying” proves that Kesha has one hell of a voice, as she blasts through the chorus with ease. Her voice is raw and uninhibited as she opens up to share her survival story. “Rainbow” is another emotionally-fuelled song, where Kesha preaches to the younger, inexperienced version of herself about overcoming future obstacles and remaining positive when facing hardship.
“Learn To Let You Go” is a catchy, radio-friendly song that demonstrates Kesha’s prowess at churning out top-notch pop anthems. Although it lacks Kesha’s usual edginess, it’s still incredibly listenable. “Boots” is one of my personal favourites from Rainbow. The song is practically dripping with swagger, as Kesha throws out some coy lyrics about hooking up with the cowboy of her dreams. The post-chorus wailing might annoy some listeners, but I find it strangely hypnotic and intoxicating. The song has a dramatic flair to it, as if it came from the cutting room floor of a Tarantino soundtrack.
Notably, the album features an appearance from the queen of country herself, Dolly Parton. She unites with Kesha for a cover of the timeless song “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle To You).” This is the second time Kesha has released a cover of the Parton classic, having recorded a stripped back rendition for her Deconstructed EP in 2013. However, the inclusion of Parton makes this the definitive version, as their voices blend wonderfully together. Interestingly, the song was written for Parton by Kesha’s own mother Pebe Sebert, making this the perfect song for Kesha to make her own.
Unfortunately, some songs on Rainbow should have stayed within the confines of the recording studio. “Finding You” is entirely forgettable, with a bland production and repetitive lyrics. Although Kesha’s penned some pretty good country songs on this record, “Hunt You Down” isn’t one of them. The lyrics are grating and obnoxious, and the yodelling is unbearable. It’s the kind of sickly sweet song that makes you want to claw your own face off…with a rake.
“Godzilla” is an unapologetically twee song, where Kesha compares an ex-flame to the fictional city-destroyer. The lyrics are carefree and innocent, and the track provides a nice respite from the busy production of the rest of the album. Rainbow closes out with “Spaceship”, which is probably the best original country track on the album. The presence of sci-fi imagery in a country song is certainly intriguing, and the spoken word at the end is perfect for winding down the album.
Although it has its flaws, Rainbow is the best album from Kesha yet, and that’s something to be commended. The album shows off her incredible diversity, even if the sudden transitions between pop, rock and country can be extremely jarring. The emotional subject matter shows how much she has matured and developed as an artist. It’s also refreshing to hear Kesha’s voice without it being buried under filters and autotune, since she’s a fantastic vocalist. Rainbow is an opportunity to get to know Kesha Sebert, the woman that has overcome everything life has thrown at her, and move on from the Ke$ha party girl of the past.