“You don’t wanna be changed like it changed me” is the refrain on Eat the Acid, from Kesha’s new album, Gag Order. The pop star has explained that it’s a reference to her mother’s warnings about LSD, but it’s hard not to read a further meaning here. Kesha’s fifth full-length record addresses the stark realities of trauma and its aftermath – notable, given the specifics of her 2014 lawsuit alleging abuse by her former producer and label head.
With exquisite production from Rick Rubin, it’s a record that delves between plaintive, new agey sounds and crescendoing waves of euphoria. Over liturgical electronics, soft guitars and quasi-gospel vocal harmonies, the American singer’s voice is potent and distorted, dense with candour, with lines such as “All the doctors and lawyers have cut the tongue out of my mouth” on Fine Line).
Wry thoughts about fame, self-loathing, rage and music industry exploitation (“hey, look at all the money we made off me”) interweave with a narrative about learning to try to move through the pain with love and hope, not allowing fear of vulnerability to turn us into “the living dead”. Though interludes from the late guru Ram Dass feel a little hokey, overall Gag Order is polished, powerful and affirming.