We all know the story behind this one – and it is relevant to the output, as we’ll see later – but two questions kept dogging us while listening to Kesha‘s new album Rainbow. Firstly, who exactly is this album for? And would any of this have gotten out of the gate if it weren’t for the name attached?
Don’t get us wrong, it’s bloody wonderful that Kesha is free of that awful ordeal with her former whatever-you-want-call-him. But this emancipation from Dr Luke leads to Rainbow being a bit of a fuzzy walk through the pop wilderness. Kesha has said that she has based this record on her ‘true’ influences, which makes us wonder what sort of tumult her celebrated output rose from and, indeed, which colours of this rainbow might represent her most honest sides.
One moment of honesty that is indisputable, however, is the opening acoustic singalong of Bastards. It’s a title that goes beyond shock value as Kesha’s voice cracks, ringing with sincerity when she sings “I’m so sick of crying” or “they won’t break my spirit”. While the chorus – with its rundown of bastards, assholes, scumbags et al – is very American campfire, it’s in those tender moments that Kesha really communicates how much this means to her… which are then offset by a big, obvious coda that no one needs. There’s no doubt that like the sleeve there’s some nakedness on display here, but there’s also no argument that it’s buried under distracting embellishment.
Then it all starts getting more confusing. Not that we wanted a big old weepie from her, but a lot of the songs seem slight even for a pop star that isn’t Kesha. She employs Eagles of Death Metal for a raucous Let ‘Em Talk which, while fun, won’t make a lasting impression in her catalogue; meanwhile the singles Woman, Hymn, and Praying take in so many different genres that the notion of being “just happy to release music again” means exactly that: it feels like she’s thrown together just any old music for the sake of it.
But maybe that’s what her Rainbow is – a series of different colours which, while held together, stay in their own separate lanes and don’t deign to blend in with each other. Yet the picture from a distance isn’t as pretty as Kesha might have hoped for; Praying is an interesting song to dwell on in that respect. It feels voyeuristic and not necessarily in a good way, a fact made even more uncomfortable by the melodramatic arrangement. It may be a reflection of how publicly and unattractively the lawsuit played out, but it’s so overwrought and obvious that nothing about it feels remotely real. Moreover, there she is hoping for someone’s downfall in the most pointed way, and within seconds Kesha is proclaiming how she has to Learn To Let Go. Huh.
The message is as confused as the sound, the latter of which takes a proper battering in the second half. It includes golden lines such as “that’s what you get when you take Godzilla to the mall” on Godzilla (a contender for most woeful pop moment since Saddest Vanilla), and then starts doing the whole assortment-box schtick again by flipping from an admittedly endearing Americana guise to Karen O-wannabe rock chick on Boogie Feet. Kesha falls into that pop album trap of wanting to be everything, but ending up as nothing of substance.
The only moment after the first song that really stands out is Dolly Parton‘s excellent feature, Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You). The two voices meld together brilliantly, and it is the tentpole moment the album needs. But it’s too little too late as we finally manage to find the answers to the two questions posed at the beginning of this review: call us cynical but this is the sort of collection seems like it’s been released for the wave of Kesha fans and well-wishers who are so invested in her story that they’ll celebrate this record without objectivity or regard for quality. And in this lies the irony of the second answer: it could only really have been released by someone with Kesha’s story, because otherwise this Rainbow is as wispy as its namesake.