“Praying,” the lead single from Kesha’s first album in nearly five years, is as triumphant as songs come. Swelling pianos and career-best vocals frame the cut, which seemingly refers to the singer’s creative break from former producer Dr. Luke. (In a 2014 lawsuit, she accused him of sexual assault, among other allegations; Luke — real name: Lukasz Gottwald — has repeatedly denied all her claims, most of which were thrown out by a judge in April 2016, though one contract-related claim is still ongoing in court. She did not work directly with Luke on Rainbow, though it is being released through his Kemosabe label “with [his] approval,” according to a statement from his spokesperson.) But Rainbow, her rich, masterful third LP, is far more than a kiss-off to old demons — it’s an artistic feat, as Kesha unites stylistic forays with her sharp, weathered lyricism.
On 2012’s uneven Warrior, Kesha teamed with artists from will.i.am to Iggy Pop but lacked a unifying vision. Here she’s more chameleonic than ever — Rainbow contains both a glitzy, glam-rock rave-up with Eagles of Death Metal (“Boogie Feet”) and a brassy funk collab with the Dap-Kings Horns (“Woman”) — but the results jell. Still, whether she’s belting forlorn country with Dolly Parton on “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You)” or practicing the synth pop that made her a star (“Hymn”), her authenticity never flags; Rainbow’s 14 tracks are pure, uncut Kesha.
Kesha’s lyrics, which channel her personal turmoil into catharsis and reflection, are ultimately what unites the set. “Life ain’t always fair, but hell is living in resentment,” she observes on “Learn to Let Go,” right before the song explodes into a thunderous whoa-oh-oh chorus about exorcising demons and leaving the past behind. Later, she recalls having “boys in every country code, just a rolling stoner on a roll” over a “Timber”-meets-“Toxic” instrumental on “Boots,” but she arrives at an empowering moral: “If you can’t handle these claws, you don’t get this kitty.” At every turn, Kesha deploys vivid writing — just check the twee ditty “Godzilla,” about taking a monster home to meet your mom — to stave off dreariness. “Don’t let the bastards get you down,” she sings on “Bastards” — and Rainbow exhibits what perseverance can yield. A-