Kesha has been through a hell of a lot. This stems back to the beginning of the decade, when her early work, including debut single “Tik Tok” (which still bangs by the way) was met with personal insults and derision hurled at her, most of which was deeply steeped in sexism. This was of course followed by years of alleged abuse from producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, the lawsuits that stemmed from it, and even more harassment from the worst corners of the internet. It’s enough to break even the strongest person, and I don’t think any of us would have blamed her for retiring from the public life and living in peace. But Kesha made it through her personal hell from the last seven years and has reentered the world of music with her new album Rainbow, a thematically and musically varied testament to both the strength and fortitude she has forged through the hardships of the last few years and the fun-loving rocker that she has always been.
It doesn’t take long for the first point to come across. Album opener “Bastards” is a satisfying, profanity-laced folk tune that delivers a hearty “fuck you” to all of the abusers, naysayers, and general bastards who harass and belittle those that most need our support. Kesha’s cadence and the strum of the guitar don’t always vibe, making parts of the opening a little clunky, but it’s an effective and enjoyable song nonetheless.
Kesha rightly condemns those who have harmed her, but a large chunk of the album is also about moving on from the darkness of the past and not letting it drag you down. On the percussion-fueled pop jam “Learn To Let Go” she tells us “The past can’t haunt me if I don’t let it,” while still reminding listeners to not forget what they’ve been through. Likewise, “Rainbow” is a beautifully scored orchestral track about overcoming depression and trauma that still moves me to tears even after multiple listens. While Kesha keeps the subject of these tracks vague for the most part, on reverent first single “Praying” she doesn’t need to say a certain previously mentioned producer’s name to identify who she’s talking about while she belts the chorus. The religious motif also appears on “Hymn,” an anthem for those outside the norm that reassures that yes, they are valued, appreciated, and loved.
Rainbow deals with some heavy subject matter from the darker parts of Kesha’s life, but the singer still left space on the album to have a great time as well. “Boots” is a wonderfully funky tango about a “boy in every port” woman finding a boy who is good enough in all romantic areas (if you catch my drift) to get her to stay in one place. I don’t know if you’ve gently strummed a guitar while wondering what it would be like to date a giant kaiju, but Kesha does exactly that on “Godzilla.” Guests are also brought in to have some fun, with the feminist rallying cry “Woman” utilizing the Brooklyn-based Dap-Kings Horns to imbue a heaping amount of soul into the track. Eagles of Death Metal are brought in for two tracks as well. While “Boogie Feet” isn’t anything to write home about,“Let ‘Em Talk” is a bombastic rock song about not caring what others think and is one of the best and most fun tracks on the album. Meanwhile, Queen of Country Dolly Parton is on hand to add just that little bit of heartbreak needed on “Old Flames.”
The music is great, but one of my favorite parts of the album doesn’t involve singing at all. Throughout the album, as songs open and close we occasionally hear snippets of the recording process. In one instance Kesha asks if they need to run a song again as it ends, and in another Kesha and the musicians try to get themselves under control after laughing before a track. It’s so nice that after everything she’s been through, Kesha is happy. After enduring nightmarish working conditions, she’s enjoying herself and having fun in a studio again. It’s a small touch, but it’s enough to warm even the coldest hearts.
By the time Kesha returns to her home planet at the end of “Spaceship,” she’s taken listeners on a journey across genres and ideas. Not every song on Rainbow works completely, but the majority land exactly as they’re meant to. Kesha is a musician that does exactly what she wants to with her music, and after years of struggle is finally in a place where she can do exactly that once again. That is worthy enough of celebration, and that Rainbow is this good of an album is just icing on the cake.