Kesha’s “High Road” to Pop, and Self, Recovery

It’s been ten years since Kesha, then Ke$ha, released her first album Animal. At the time I was in *barf* middle school, and thus I can’t help but associate these autotune-heavy songs with that incredibly cringey time of my life. However, as we learn more about the so-called adults Kesha was dealing with in creating her first two albums, my experiences don’t seem as bad. Most pop stars who are as far into their careers as Kesha is would be told, as she bluntly put it on that first album, “D-I-N-O-S-A-you are a dinosaur!” even at her still young age of 32. And yet with her latest effort, High Road, we find the Kesha of 2017’s sober Rainbow reconciling with the party girl of the aforementioned 2010’s Animal and the less-beloved follow-up, 2012’s Warrior. Whether this self-collaboration works is questionable at the beginning. But over time, the “two” deliver an album that is pure pop and done on their own terms.

We start out with “Tonight” which boasts some pretty powerful vocals at first and all seems well. Then comes the intoxicated, poorly-autotuned crowd to completely ruin the good vibe going. I know you think they’re cool and they’re your friends, Kesha, but they’re not. They totally destroyed everything. What kind of friends do that? You’re gonna clean this up.

She thankfully does drop this crowd for the next track, appropriately titled “My Own Dance.” The sultry guitars underlie the internal conflict of Kesha deciding which era of herself she would like to be, all while adding to her list of signature witty lines. This time it’s “Don’t circumcise my circumstance.” That’s our girl! After that comes the first single off of this album, “Raising Hell” featuring Big Freedia, and man was it a powerful one. The only thing that makes this thumpy, organ-clad classic even better is the televangelist-spoofing music video. I would absolutely become a parishioner at the church featured.

After mass gets out we move to the title track “High Road” which boasts an incredibly catchy chorus before we briefly enter the ballad territory with “Shadow” and then veer towards the folksy with “Honey”, “Cowboy Blues” and “Resentment”. The latter features not one but three additional artists in Sturgill Simpson, The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and Wrabel.

The marching band-esque horns and drums that somewhat dominate today’s pop scene appear in “Little Bit of Love” without sounding too redundant, while “Birthday Suit” creatively infuses nostalgic video game sounds with a reappearance of those sultry guitar strings. Speaking of nostalgia, if any of these tracks were to be seamlessly placed into one of her old albums it would be the next one, “Kinky”. This makes sense considering it says it features “Ke$ha”. The synthy, 80s-like groove is totally infectious and a reminder that she was one of the first to re-tap into these sounds before it exploded in popularity once again.

Some may question the inclusion of the twelfth entry, “Potato Song (Cuz I Want To)”. Well there you have it, cause she wanted to. Ke$ha may not have been explicitly featured in this song but it definitely shares her goofiness. We’re at the point in the party where we’re just bobbing our heads at whatever song is playing, and the pirate ship atmosphere it emulates only adds to the wooziness you would already be feeling.

One of my favorites on the album is “B.F.F.” which again features Wrabel and signals that the party is reaching the end, when you’re reminiscing about those who got you through everything with a full heart. These warm and fuzzies slowly dissipate, however, with the heartbreaking “Father Daughter Dance”. Kesha belts through the experiences she wishes she had with her father who never was.

Don’t worry, though. She gets back on the horse, both sonically and lyrically, with the upbeat “Chasing Thunder” and “Summer”. In the latter she proclaims to the subject “I’ll remember you for the rest of my life.” Whether or not you will do the same for Kesha, she is determined you do so not because of what was done to her but rather what she has done to overcome it. With this album, she is poised to do just that.

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