When it comes to new music, the phrase “highly anticipated” gets tossed around ad nauseum, but there doesn’t seem to be a better way to describe Kesha’s third studio album Rainbow. Since Kesha filed a formal complaint against her former manager and producer Dr. Luke in October 2014, it wasn’t clear whether or not Kesha would release music again, not because she didn’t want to, but because it would mean she would have to continue working with her abuser.
Despite countless obstacles, she managed to perform on a headlining ‘Kesha and The Creepies’ Tour for part of 2016 and this year. Then just over a month ago, seemingly out of nowhere, “Praying” arrived – Kesha’s first new music in nearly four years. The visuals for her first-ever ballad begin with her laid in a casket, ruminating on feeling dead, abandoned, and defeated in an opening monologue. She’s soon triumphantly seated at a piano, wearing a crown of thorns, angel wings, and a sparkly blue getup. From this first taste of the album, it was clear Kesha would be taking her sound in a very different direction.
Rainbow’s album cover features a nude Kesha walking into an ocean in the middle of outer space, a row of UFOs disappearing into the distance. As cartoonishly trippy as is, it’s a pretty good visual representation of the record’s themes – stripping back the bullshit, letting go, looking forward, and holding a belief in more than just our terrestrial existence.
The album opener “Bastards” is an affirmation of Kesha’s new sonic path. Her distinctly un-autotuned voice emerges, singing about the age-old adage “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” Instead of the squeaky clean electronic production that used to accompany her vocals, we hear acoustic guitar, subtle horns and piano that open up to expansive, booming drums in the last part of the song. “Let ‘Em Talk” keeps up the momentum, a pop-punk “fuck the haters” anthem featuring Eagles of Death Metal, where she sings, “I’ve decided all the haters everywhere can suck my dick.” The previously-released “Woman” rounds out the opening trifecta of the album, starting things off on an empowered note.
‘Hymn” and “Praying” are both fairly pared-down songs, where the listener is easily able to connect to Kesha’s optimistic agnosticism. Kesha’s “hymn for the hymnless” is a shout-out to all the outcasts out there, while “Praying” is deeply personal, clearly referencing the pain she experienced for over a decade of her life.
On Rainbow, you’re not going to find anything like the turned-up tracks Kesha is known for – “Timber,” “Tik Tok,” or “Die Young,” to name a few. The anthems that projected an image of the singer-songwriter as a nihilistic party girl that couldn’t care less are nowhere to be found. Instead, Kesha is unapologetically herself, making music she’s proud of.
In a recent essay for Rolling Stone, she elaborates on the cognitive dissonance she experienced playing EDM festivals, then retreating to her tour bus to listen to classic rock records from her idols like Iggy Pop, The Beach Boys, and Dolly Parton. Kesha is finally in a place confident enough to make music in the same vein as her musical heroes, even singing a cover of “Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You),” with the original artist Parton herself.
Title track “Rainbow” was directly inspired by The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” which was the eighth song on the band’s seminal 1966 album Pet Sounds and holds the same position on Kesha’s record. The crux of the album, it was written on a small keyboard that Kesha had limited access to in rehab, and was later recorded with an orchestra. Like the track it references, it’s raw and vulnerable, yet sweeping and hopeful.
There’s an unwritten rule that a pop album needs to have at least one love song, but at least Kesha’s don’t suck or lean on tired tropes. “Boots” is said love song, and is also the closest we’ll get to Kesha’s previous EDM sound on this album: an adorable bop about deciding to settle down without compromising her agency as a woman.
Kesha has abandoned a lot to get where she is now, and decided to shed the dollar sign from her name as well as her self-deprecating former Twitter handle “@keshasuxx.” These surface-level image changes indicate a greater shift in Kesha as an artist and as a human being; she’s unapologetically optimistic, connecting to the music she’s always loved, and unafraid to discuss the themes of her new music, penning accompanying essays for each single leading up to the album’s release. It’s clear the making of Rainbow was an incredibly cathartic journey for her and as a fan, it’s deeply fulfilling to be able to finally experience it.
For more of our recent reviews, read our take on A$AP Twelvyy’s debut 12 right here.