‘Rainbow’ album review
By Lauren Kelly, Contributor
Fans of Kesha have waited for five years since her last release—2012’s Warrior—to hear new music from the embattled singer. In order to fully appreciate and understand Rainbow, it’s necessary to discuss what has happened during this time.
In 2014, Kesha filed a lawsuit against her producer, Dr. Luke, with whom she had signed a 6 album contract when she was 18. In the suit, she alleged that he had committed emotional and sexual abuse against her during her time working with him, including tormenting her about her weight and talent, as well as drugging and raping her. Thankfully, Sony has since dropped Dr. Luke, after a long and public battle, and Kesha is free to make the music she wants to make.
With that context, Rainbow is a triumphant return for the singer, who uses the album to focus on themes of self-love and empowerment. Rainbow jumps between genres when it isn’t bending them, showcasing what Kesha can accomplish when she’s given true artistic freedom.
Album opener “Bastards” sets the thematic tone for Rainbow, a slow acoustic track about proving wrong the people who don’t believe in her talent, or who look down on her for her image. Although the album speaks to her personal experiences, ”Bastards” is easy to relate to for most listeners, like most of the tracks on the album, and the chorus addresses the listener, telling them “Don’t let the bastards get you down / Don’t let the assholes wear you out.”
“Let ’Em Talk” continues this theme, but that’s where the comparisons end. The song, which features the Eagles of Death Metal, is pure, exhilarating rock and roll. It’s a glimpse of what Warrior could have been, and it’s one of the best songs on the album. Kesha and Eagles of Death Metal also collaborate later on with “Boogie Feet,” another immensely enjoyable track, although one that is not as thematically cohesive.
An early stretch of the album contains the promotional singles. “Praying,” the album’s first single, is an incredibly powerful song about Kesha overcoming her struggles against her abuser. It’s one of her strongest vocal performances, showcased especially in the second half of the song. To me, one of the most understated moments of the song is when she states: “I’m proud of who I am.” “Woman,” featuring the Dap-Kings Horns, is a female empowerment anthem with a very radio-unfriendly chorus: “I’m a motherfucking woman, baby, all right / And I don’t need a man to be holding me too tight.” Lastly, “Learn to Let Go” is a more typical pop song, but it’s another that will resonate with a large audience of people who have dealt with abuse or trauma in their past, but are trying to move forward from it.
“Hymn,” a song about life as a young, non-religious person, is another track that I feel will resonate with much of today’s youth, myself included. After the religious overtones of single “Praying,” including a music video filled with religious imagery, I was happy to hear this counterbalance. It’s a unique song in topic, and one that I appreciate the inclusion of.
What her singles don’t reveal is that Kesha spends a lot of Rainbow in the country realm, which may seem like a surprising departure from the sound she’s most well-known for. However, she sounds incredibly at home in this style, most likely due to the fact that her mother is country songwriter Pebe Sebert. On a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You),” which was written by Sebert, Kesha sings along with Dolly Parton. It’s a beautiful rendition of the song and a beautiful moment for Kesha. “Hunt You Down,” about a great relationship with a previously promiscuous man, has a distinctly western twang to it to match the other “no fury like a woman scorned” style popular with female country singers. Next, “Boots” invokes country imagery but marries closer the country stylings with her previous sound, creating a sexy romp through a new relationship. This is one of the top tracks of the album, and her work with different styles of country shows her potential to bend genres.
In this vein of romance-focused tracks, “Finding You” is a pop-heavy song about pledging to be with someone forever, including in the afterlife. This song didn’t resonate with me, and I think it’s one of the less interesting songs on the album, but it is incredibly catchy. On an album full of amazing tracks, this is still good even if it is one of Kesha’s weaker offerings.
Penultimate track “Godzilla” is one of the strangest inclusions on the album, but one of my favourites. Kesha rarely sounds as sweet and earnest as she does when she sings about meeting Godzilla and falling in love with him, and all the trials they face as a couple—such as taking him to the mall and scaring off children, or taking him home to meet her family and her mom calling the cops. It’s a bizarre song, but it works, especially as a bare, acoustic track.
Both titular track “Rainbow” and album closer “Spaceship” go back to the theme of empowerment and strength in the face of struggle. In “Rainbow,” Kesha reveals “Yeah, maybe my head’s fucked up / But I’m falling right back in love with being alive.” While many of her songs here are written from the perspective of being on the other side of struggle and abuse, the country-tinged “Spaceship” takes place in the middle of it, offering hope for others who are struggling. With the lyric “I been in a lonesome galaxy / But in my dreams I see them come and rescue me,” she sings of the spaceship she’s waiting for. Thematically and musically, “Spaceship” is a fantastic closer to a fantastic album.
As a long-time Kesha fan, I was happy to hear her strength and creativity shine through in this album. It’s a must-listen for both her fans and her doubters—and if they leave unhappy, Kesha clearly has the strength to be okay with that; ultimately, this album was for her.