‘Rainbow’ is Kesha’s emotional, long-awaited return

From the very first track, Kesha’s comeback album “Rainbow” is clearly different from anything she’s made before.

At first glance, one might assume that intro track “Bastards” will be some punchy, confident song about boys, self-love or all-nighters like “Your Love Is My Drug,” “Cannibal” and “Warrior,” the songs that introduced her last three releases, respectively. While “Bastards” is all of those things, the mellow acoustics are strangely uncharacteristic of Kesha.

But anyone who’s been paying attention to the artist knows that the formerly known Ke$ha is long gone after a year-long, uphill battle with abuse, self-harm and artistic suppression.

“I got too many people I got left to prove wrong/All those moththerf—–s been too mean for too long,” Kesha sings. “I’m so sick of crying/Darling, what’s it for?/I could fight forever, but life’s too short.”

Those “people” likely include the many critics who scrutinized the “Tik Tok” singer’s every move when she checked into rehab in 2014, setting off a chain of events that would stagnate her career. When most assumed the star had finally succumbed to her brazen, partying image, Kesha was forced to be the most vulnerable she’d ever been and open up about the restraints placed on her by her label that led to an eating disorder among other self-destructive behaviors. The most personal aspects of her life had taken center stage, propelling her into a legal stalemate with Dr. Luke, her longtime producer whom she accused of sexual abuse and manipulation — a fight that started long before most of us realized.

Although the painstaking journey is far from over, Kesha fans — affectionately called “animals” — have patiently seen her through, and “Rainbow” is not only the culmination of it all, but a thank-you five years in the making. And by track two, it’s a promise that her spirit is not at all broken.

“Let ‘Em Talk” is more familiar, opening with electric guitar riffs reminiscent of The Romantics’ “What I Like About You” and getting back to her usual pop-rock sound.

“Don’t let those losers take your magic, baby, yeah,” she growls, officially kicking off the album and seamlessly transitioning into “Woman,” her second single from the album that’s already solidified its status as a feminist anthem.

Kesha asserts her femininity and independence, assuring, “I run my s–t baby” before pulling off an impressive run that could start a riot — or a women’s march at least. Explicit and unapologetic, “Woman” is a kick to the ovaries, and it feels so good.

Next up is “Hymn,” the final single to precede the album, and it’s what Kesha does best: anthems for the “other.”

“This is a hymn for the hymnless,” she sings. “Sorry if you’re starstruck/Blame it on the stardust/I know that I’m perfect even though I’m f—-d up.” Kesha told NPR that “Hymn” was for anyone who’s never quite felt like he or she fit in, a feeling most, if not all, people relate to. But for Kesha fans, the draw has always been her ability to make listeners feel like whatever makes them different is their own superpower. The emotion of this song slows down the momentum of the previous tracks,but it’s just in time for the most emotional track on the entire album.

“Praying” was not only the first single from the album, but Kesha’s first official release following the controversy with her label. No one knew what to expect, but “Praying” is both a conclusion and an introduction to remind us she’s still here.

“You almost had me fooled/Told me that I was nothing without you,” sings Kesha, opening with somber piano and haunting vocals. The song feels much like an open letter to Dr. Luke and anyone else who’s stood in her way. The next verse, however, kicks the song up a notch and affirms that Kesha has officially taken her power back.

“No more monsters, I can breathe again/And you said that I was done,” she sings, but within seconds she’s belting out the lyric “Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come,” closing out that chapter of her life. By the end of the second verse, a steady drumbeat and gritty vocals contribute to the song’s dramatic build. But she pulls it all together in the bridge with compelling lyrics and a piercing note that shows off her vocal range. Just like that, Kesha’s proven a musicality that critics have long denied and introduced a vulnerability and force that we haven’t yet seen from her.

The last single is “Learn To Let Go,” which was released in late July. This song is especially poignant because it feels directly addressed to the fans, who looked to the “We R Who We R” singer as a poster child for self-confidence. So it was especially surprising to hear that she could be so consumed by others’ opinions of her.

“I’m a crusader for being yourself and loving yourself, but I’ve found it hard to practice,” she told Rolling Stone following her stint in rehab.

“I know I’m always like telling everybody you don’t gotta be a victim,” the lyrics read. “So I think it’s time to practice what I preach.” While the song is a confession, it also serves as permission for her and her fans to move on and believe in the values her music promotes.

Track seven, “Finding You,” serves as a transition. While she’s told the story before (girl loves boy, girl writes song about said boy), she’s telling it in a new way. The folksy guitar-picking heightens the senses as it’s not something we’ve ever heard on a Kesha album.

The title track “Rainbow” is what we’ve all been waiting for.

“I used to live in the darkness/Dress in black, act so heartless/But now I see that colors are everything,” she sings with nothing but a piano to back her, which feels symbolic of the stripped-down vulnerability we’ve seen from the star in the past couple of years. “Got kaleidoscopes in my hair-do/Got back the stars in my eyes, too.”

The way the song builds feels symbolic of the singer’s evolution over the past five years as she’s become visibly healthier, happier, more honest and assertive. The sentimental piano paired with strings and then a choir is an arrangement as beautiful as it has been to watch it all happen. If there was one song to sum up the journey Kesha’s been on with her fans, this is the one.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Kesha album without the pop tunes that don’t take themselves too  seriously, ranging from kitschy to sexy, and “Rainbow” has a handful of songs to fit the bill: “Hunt You Down” is a western tune that’ll make you want to strap on your cowgirl boots and avenge your broken heart; “Boogie Feet” is fueled with the spunk of ‘80s punk while “Boots” is the theme song of “a rolling stoner” that belongs around a campfire in the wild west; and “Godzilla” is a just-over-two-minute account of what it’s like to fall in love with Godzilla, which is surely a metaphor for a misunderstood love interest.

In the midst of the fun is what will predictably be one of the most talked-about songs on the album; Kesha enlists country music icon Dolly Parton to cover “Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You).” Parton took the song, which was written by Kesha’s mother, songwriter Pebe Sebert, to the top of country charts back in 1980. Thirty-seven years later, she and Kesha pull of a heart-wrenchingly gorgeous, albeit surprising duet with even more emotion than when Kesha first covered it in 2013.

Finally, “Spaceship” closes out the album with one more western, folk-infused tune in spite of its galactic title.  Such influences may seem random, but Kesha has been covering artists like Dolly Parton and Bob Dylan since the start of her career, and it looks like she’s finally free to give those styles a try. As for the outer space theme, she’s long made music based on her belief in being made up of stardust.

“Nothing is real/Love is everything/And I know nothing,” she says in a monologue that concludes the song. The cryptic message may seem like an odd way to wrap up such an emotional album, but it’s oddly fitting, considering that the future of her career is still uncertain.

One thing is for sure, though: Kesha pulled it off. “Rainbow” is her best album yet, if you can even compare it to its predecessors. She manages to shift the mood, juggling touchy, extremely sensitive subject matter, effortlessly. On top of all that, she’s reinvented herself as an artist in every sense of the word, from her underestimated vocal ability and writing to the care with which she arranged each track so that it never once felt disjointed or jarring.

But perhaps what distinguishes this album most from the rest is the road it took to get here. “Rainbow” is a culmination of abuse, pain, exposure, vulnerability, truth and triumph, all of which is palpable from start to finish.

Kesha’s back, y’all. We can start the party.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Tayhlor Stephenson, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

For more updates, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter/Instagram at @Sidelines_Life.

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