Kesha: Rainbow review – a woman unchained

After years of legal wrangles, the former purveyor of pop fodder delivers a strong third album that deserves to be a hit

Anyone wanting to sing outside the privacy of their own shower ought to be handed a tablet rammed with memoirs and biopics, featuring the cautionary tales of Tina Turner (abusive partner), Ronnie Spector (ditto), Britney Spears (mental health issues), Mariah Carey (controlling partner), Amy Winehouse (drugs), and now, Kesha Sebert (case ongoing). They should familiarise themselves with the business debacles of Prince (label woes), Leonard Cohen (thieving associate), the Stone Roses (contractual nightmares) and Brian Wilson (abusive therapist) and seriously reconsider small animal veterinary practice.

If poetic justice exists, Kesha’s Rainbow, her third album, would be a world-beating hit. It would be proof that people really want to listen to the authentic feelings of women – Kesha’s killer comeback song, Praying, say – rather than lubricious fantasias of catchy party pop. You might remember the bratty Tik Tok, or (cough) Your Love Is My Drug, or any of Kesha’s trashy chart-fodder under the aegis of Lukasz “Dr Luke” Gottwald, the producer who directed Sebert’s early success before a flurry of lawsuits – alleging rape, drugging and more – started flying.

Rainbow, then, is Kesha unchained – although still signed to the label she accuses of colluding with Gottwald. Turns out, the real Sebert isn’t a cannibal, or an animal, but a big country fan. The patron saint of business-savvy chanteuses, Dolly Parton, turns up to duet on Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You); ballads and twanging feature frequently.

So Rainbow is both stranger and more normal than you expect; uneven – does Kesha really rhyme “highway” with “Hyundai”? – but likable. Even after everything, the singer remains allied to fun; a balladeer with a gonzoid streak. The galumphing Boots finds this “rolling stoner” in love, missing her flight to Japan. On a love song called Godzilla, the vengeful Japanese mutant eats her fries.

Prurient though it sounds, we’re really here for the empowerment narrative – to hear pop cannon fodder firing back. It starts with Bastards, a country tune in which “motherfuckers” try to grind Kesha down: a little heavy on cliche, perhaps, but you’re on her side now.

We progress through the rock-tinged Let ’Em Talk (on which the Eagles of Death Metal guest), before finally hitting paydirt on Woman, a girl-positive party anthem featuring the Dap-Kings horns. “Don’t touch my weed/ Don’t call me honey/ Cause I run my shit, baby,” swaggers Kesha, convincingly.

The resonant Hymn (“for the hymnless”), meanwhile, is one of those would-be generational anthems in which young people are revealed to be screwed up but OK: a bit like Halsey’s New Americana, but with more heft.

At the very end is Spaceship. It would be easy to lump this stoner country bagatelle with the goofy Godzilla. But here, Kesha considers her own death and leaving this flawed place behind, sounding pretty evolved. “Nothing is real, love is everything,” she concludes, “and I know nothing.”

Watch Kesha’s video for Praying.

The GuardianTramp

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