There’s little worth writing about the past years of the professional and personal lives of Kesha Sebert that hasn’t already been analysed, dissected, and poured over in the public forum. She’s still currently embroiled in a lengthy lawsuit with Dr Luke, the hitmaker pop producer who was Sebert’s mentor and who Sebert has since accused of verbally, physically, and sexually abusing her for a number of years.
Third studio album Rainbow emerges from this maelstrom, giving the high-profile Kesha a way to return to her major pop star status, even as she remains tied to Kemosabe Records, Dr Luke’s former division of Sony. This album shifts deliberately away from the rambunctious dance-pop of debut album Animal and the glitter rock-pop of Warrior, into a more earthy and grounded sound.
At first glance, Rainbow is instantly a more varied and psychedelic record than her other two albums — even the vibrant artwork that evokes Seventies glam rock seems to glow with a freshly-won sense of liberation as Sebert seeks to regain control she might never have fully had as an artist, and dive head-first into where her music palette wants to go.
The songs are steeped in this independence, this arms-aloft freedom. Lead single ‘Praying’ is a cathartic paean that shifts gears from broken balladry to angry anthem, channeling frustration and pain into a new beginning, complete with heart-stopping high note and furiously triumphant piano chords and drums.
The sonic palette is delightfully varied on Rainbow. ‘Woman’ is a feminist anthem that deals in big brass and jazz, saxophone instrumentation (thanks to the Dap-Kings Horns) and a rollicking sense of fun and freedom, while album standout ‘Let ‘Em Talk’ is a joyous explosion of riotous heavy metal guitar (courtesy of The Eagles of Death Metal who also appear on the appropriately dancey ‘Boogie Feet’), combining rock instrumentation with an irreverent pop sensibility to create a song that is sure to get people dancing and shaking their cares away.
For every carefree banger, however, there’s also a more measured, pensive side to Kesha explored that has only been sporadically witnessed on her earlier albums; the manically-titled ‘Godzilla’ and ‘Spaceships’ channel a folk vibe that act as an antithesis to the high-octane pop she’s largely known for, while the Dolly Parton duet ‘Old Flames’ is a soulful country ballad that stands out as a sincere highlight of a soul-searching record.
No song better summarises the record as the titular track and opener. ‘Rainbow’ is a reflective, stripped-back song that alludes to the past five years of her life and her struggle, and deftly acknowledges while looking forward to the future. She sings ‘I used to live in the darkness/Dress in black, act so heartless/But now I see that colours are everything’; given that this was conceived and written when Kesha was in rehab, it’s a powerful meditation on her past and a breath of fresh air into a more positive direction.
Rainbow is a solid, compelling work signalling the return of a potent artist. Kesha began her career in the vein of a party girl, sipping whiskey in bathtubs and staggering from one debauched bash to the next. This time around, her eyes are clear, her shields are gone, and her soul is bare. This is Kesha Rose, and we couldn’t be happier to welcome her back to the world.