44.27 min • Kemosabe, RCA • November 30, 2012
Pop isn’t as easy as it used to be. The scattering of pop stars that have lasted the test of time, from P!NK and Nelly Furtado to Madonna and Kylie, have always done so with a bit of sonic innovation and a visual reinvention or 3, to keep them afloat on the current musical wave. There are few artists talented enough to have staying power in the pop industry, as pop music goes from being an art form to being manufactured dross on a regular basis, and when one with staying power emerges, sometimes they get overlooked.
Ke$ha, for instance, gets a lot of shit.
From her trash-pop rap beginings with first single ‘Tik Tok’ (the line “wake up in the morning feeling like P Diddy” is still one of the best introductions to a new artist ever) through to current hippy-folk-electro single ‘Die Young’, there’s certainly been more musical innovation in her 3 releases than anywhere else in mainstream pop. People, for one reason or another, always try and ignore Ke$ha’s talent. I can only assume that most people find her trashy image, distorted vocals and almost childlike pop hooks annoying, so in turn decide to assume she is your bog-standard talentless popstar. A country singer with an ear for a good hook, Ke$ha made the decision to put her acoustic guitar down for her debut album Animal in favour of club rocking electro pop, taking major inspiration from ’80s Prince, French rapper Uffie and glitter covered glam rock, Animal was a melting pot of idea’s. A young girl with a music obsession, who cut herself open and bleed out her funk driven influences, through her debut album, to the reissue titled Cannibal, and now with new album Warrior, Ke$ha has remained true to herself throughout, whilst still evolving in style.
Warrior is stylistically the most innovative pop album of the year. Mixing hippy folk rock and punk with modern commercial and uncommercial electronic music, it’s still every inch the radio friendly album Ke$ha intended it to be (maybe minus the swearing!)
Opener and title track ‘Warrior’ is what we have come to expect from Ke$ha. Inspired by her (almost constantly) negative press, and her fans using her music and a coping mechanism, ‘Warrior’ drips with survival instinct.
We were born to break the doors down,
Fight until the end
Ke$ha howls, before being engulfed by a squelching bass, and her now trademark rap
Cut the bullshit out with a dagger…
…Think it’s time for a revolution
It’s Girl Power (or maybe more accurately, Freak Power) for the new millennium.
‘Single Die Young’, with its hippy acoustic guitar and ridiculously catchy pop hook, was the perfect lead single, and it’s illuminati-bating video, featuring satanic symbols and Ke$ha writhing around a barn converted into some kind of devil church, pushes the current underground witch pop phenomenon right out into the mainstream far more than any other artist. Co-written with Nate Ruess from Fun,(the first of many stellar collaborations) it’s one of my favourite tracks of the year.
Promo single ‘C’Mon’ is fine as a Ke$ha-by-numbers bubblegum pop, and was a good choice to lure people into this crazy mix of songs, but it doesn’t have the sonic and lyrical bite of some of the other tracks.
One of Ke$ha’s charms is her ability to write cheerful, fuck you teeny pop, and ‘Thinking Of You’ follows previous album tracks ‘Kiss And Tell’ and ‘C U Next Tuesday’ as a large slice of power teen pop about a guy being a dick. With its rock tinged guitar (and is that a dubstep drum in the breakdown?!) and playfully cruel lyrics, this is why Ke$ha is an icon to so many young girls who don’t want to cry about their BFs cheating on them, but go out and find someone else.
I’ve been convinced for a while that Will.I.Am needs to go away. His new single with Britney, ‘Scream And Shout’, might have been interesting if he’d shut up, but as it is it’s solidified my opinion that he’s a much better songwriter than he is an artist or producer. So, on the surface his co-writing credit on the brilliant folk dub of ‘Crazy Kids’ shouldn’t surprise me, I’m just surprised its one of the most interesting things here. From its opening acoustic guitar and whistling combo, we sample its hippy folk chorus, before Ke$ha whispers
we are the crazy people
and the songs explodes into a bass heavy rap. A typical Will.I.Am genre shift, it somehow works and manages to feel effortlessly cool and edgy, like ‘Swagga Jagger’ by Cher Lloyd if it had been good.
Now, one of the things Ke$ha wanted to prove with this album was her ability to sing (something that is often reported she can’t do) and, whilst there is still plenty of autotune and dance beats throughout the album, there are less effects on her voice, and it feels like she’s easing people into what her voice actually sounds like, without the effects, without the white girl rap. ‘Wherever You Are’ is one of those songs – this well crafted pop song, somewhere along the way turned into a dance song, showcases Ke$ha’s gorgeous folk tone and, like the down tempo middle section of ‘Crazy Kids’, delivers some killer money notes, without sounding like she is trying to SING at us. She just simply sings – and it works.
I have to say, I got very excited about the collaborations on this album – and the first one comes in the form of crazy swing song ‘Dirty Love’ with punk god Iggy Pop. ‘Dirty Love’ is so filthy it makes me want to wash, but I love it. (I mean, surely anyone would need to wash after the line
Champagne tastes like jizz to me
Stunning ballad ‘Wonderland’, about wishing you could go back in time –
isn’t it funny how time flies, fades in to gold
Now I wanna do a drive-by, but I can’t find the road
– is essentially my life, and I too
wish I could my way back to Wonderland, where it all began.
Featuring Patrick Carney of The Black Keys, it’s a gentle, reflective side of Ke$ha that most people wouldn’t expect, and her soft country tones prove she can be as soppy and heart-on-sleeve chart worthy as Taylor Swift.
One thing Swift couldn’t pull off though is’ Only Wanna Dance With You’, which is the Arctic Monkeys pastiche that Xenomania have been trying to write for Girls Aloud for the past ten years. Dripping with indie style and pop sophistication (and it’s got The Strokes on it…THE FUCKING STROKES!!!) for any other band it would be a single … but then, for any other band ANY of these songs would be singles.
‘Supernatural’ (about a sexual encounter with a ghost) is a great slice of electroblitz, and easily the best dance track on here (I mean, it samples Nik Kershaw, how cool is that!?!), and ‘All That Matters (The Beautiful Lie)’ is a perfectly great dance/pop song, albeit sounding like it could have been written for J-Lo. (And to have her singing “put your motherfucking phones up” would have made my year!)
‘Love Into The Light’ is a wonderfully atmospheric album closer, with possibly some of the best lyrical content on display over the whole album, with Ke$ha’s unapologetic attitude towards her bad tattoos and her smoking and drinking habits coming with a resigned maturity rather than the bratty petulance people might expect. And this is when things get interesting.
The bonus tracks, as is usually the way, are a hot bed of fun – from glam Beastie Boys style blaster ‘Gold Trans Am’ (about her vagina … apparently!) to the gorgeous pop of ‘Last Goodbye’ and the earth mother dance of ‘Out Alive’, we’re in familiar territory, and then we get hit with a curve ball – the long awaited collaboration with The Flaming Lips. ‘Past Lives’ is easily the best thing she has ever done (and the least commercial, I can see why it’s been relegated to closing the deluxe edition … but still!) Written by Ke$ha and produced by The Flaming Lips, it’s a gorgeously minimal folk ballad about falling in love with the same person over and over again through all your past lives – the true meaning of soul mates. It closes the whole thing beautifully, yet somehow manages to feel slightly out of place with its mature sound and haunting production. If Ke$ha did more songs like this, yes her main fan base would probably not know what to do with themselves, but at least the music snobs might give her a bit of a break.
Essentially Warrior is the best pop album I have heard all year, and the album Ke$ha needed to make. It’s mature enough to show her growth as a songwriter, an artist and a person, but still has more fun than a selection box in a Christmas stocking. Ke$ha is a superb writer of pop songs – her melodies get stuck in your head, her lyrics are generally subversive, and she has a cracking voice. Unfortunately in the past this has been overshadowed by her love for white girl electro rap, and her trashy gutter-valley-girl image. Hopefully, after this album people will be able to look past the dollar sign to the music – and realise there’s a lot more to Ke$ha than they first thought.
If not, then maybe she’ll have to do something even more drastic next time, which I’d welcome with open arms.