Kesha's Rainbow: What You Need To Know
When Kesha released her debut album Animal in 2010, she seemed destined for pop superstardom; her single 'Tik Tok' became the biggest-selling digital single in history with over 14 million downloads, and a string of Top 10 hits pointed to a stellar pop career.
However, little more than a year after the release of her 2012 sophomore album Warrior, Kesha's life and career took a turn for the worse as stories about her troubled working relationship with her manager and producer Dr. Luke soon escalated into a full-blown legal battle, with the singer alleging that the producer had “sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally” abused her since the beginning of their professional relationship. Dr. Luke then counter-sued the singer for defamation and breach of contract.
As a result, Kesha's career has been largely on ice and it has been five years since the singer released any new material, but this week, despite the ongoing legal tussle between the pair, her new album finally arrives in stores. It's called Rainbow, and here's everything you need to know...
A little background...
Kesha reportedly began writing material for her third album as far back as January 2014, shortly after admitting herself to rehab for treatment of an eating disorder, which her mother later confirmed to be bulimia nervosa, stating that the singer began struggling with the condition shortly after signing her recording contract with Dr. Luke's label, Kemosabe Records. In a Teen Vogue interview published in August that year, Kesha said that she had recorded 14 songs for her new album. Then in October came the first of two lawsuits filed by the singer against Dr. Luke, marking the beginning of the pair's bitterly contested legal struggles.
Amongst the less serious of Kesha's complaints against her producer was her lack of creative control over her second album, Warrior, with the singer stating that her favourite song from those recording sessions, 'Machine Gun Love', was omitted from the album against her wishes. That's worth noting in the context of this new album because Rainbow exhibits a very different musical direction from that found on her first two albums, with Kesha stating that the album had been inspired by her “true” musical influences such as Iggy Pop, Dolly Parton and The Beach Boys, among several others.
In October last year it was revealed that Kesha had submitted 22 tracks, in various stages of completion, to her label and that they were working on the new material with a view to her next album release. On July 6th, Kesha finally unveiled the first single from her third album, 'Praying', a towering, piano-led ballad which appears to address the situation with Dr. Luke, although he is never explicitly named. Along with the song's release came the news that her third album, Rainbow, would arrive on August 11th.
Who's producing it?
Kesha has recruited several producers to work on her new material, including Ben Folds, Ryan Lewis, Brody Brown, Andrew Pearson, Stuart Crichton and Ricky Reed.
Any special guests?
The handful of guests on Rainbow give an early indication of the album's direction, with Eagles of Death Metal appearing on two songs – 'Let 'em Talk' and 'Boogie Feet' - while country legend Dolly Parton adds vocals to a cover version of 'Old Flames (Can't Hold a Candle to You)' and 'Woman' includes a funky horn section provided by The Dap Kings, best-known for their partnership with the late Sharon Jones and their work with Mark Ronson on Amy Winehouse's Back to Black.
What does it sound like?
Anyone familiar with the brash, hard-edged pop music that populated Kesha's first two albums is probably in for a bit of a shock here; the difference on Rainbow is profound and quite startling. 'Woman', a song reportedly inspired by Donald Trump's infamous “grab them by the p***y” comment, is a blast of feminine rage underpinned by a funky rhythm and the Dap Kings' impressive brass section, and featuring a hook in which Kesha yells repeatedly “I'm a motherf***ing woman”. At the opposite end of the scale there's the Ben Folds-produced title track, apparently written on a toy piano during Kesha's time in a Chicago rehab clinic, whose lush orchestration conjures up images of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, with Kesha's voice sounding more raw and powerful than ever before.
Elsewhere there's a palatable country twang on songs like 'Old Flames (Can't Hold a Candle to You)' and 'Hunt You Down', the latter complete with banjos and the kind of hell-hath-no-fury lyrics you'd expect to find on proper Nashville record. Meanwhile, if Kesha and Eagles of Death Metal seemed like an unlikely partnership, it's one that makes a strange kind of sense, particularly on 'Let 'em Talk'.
Does it deliver?
Unsurprisingly, Kesha has evidently had a few things to get off her chest here and its striking how cathartic an album Rainbow is, particularly its title track, which exudes both power and vulnerability in equal measure. In a recent New York Times profile on the singer, Ben Folds summed up Kesha's transformation about as well as anybody could: “She’s the only performer I can think of that has gone from being packaged to real. Most of the time people start off, and it’s like their rawness is what breaks through, and then they have to continue to build that into a more polished commercial thing. What she’s actually doing is the opposite, where she’s now showing that actually, there is something really huge beneath the whole thing.”
Rainbow has been a long time coming and has clearly been a difficult album to make for all sorts of reasons, but the results are genuinely impressive. Despite everything, here is an artist who has somehow managed to wrestle some kind of control over her music in circumstances that should have made that all but impossible. Whether or not you're a fan, that's a remarkable feat that deserves respect.