Cast your minds back to 2009. Think low-rise jeans, velvet tracksuits (shudder) and chunky statement belts. Chances are the song that wormed its way into your brain that year was Ke$ha’s infectious banger ‘TiK ToK’. A swaggering star was born, one who got the party started and brushed her gnashers with Jack Daniel’s. More than a decade on, Kesha (she retired the dollar sign in 2014) is no longer swigging from bottles of whiskey. The party’s stopped.
She’s back with fifth album ‘Gag Order’, the follow-up to 2020’s ‘High Road’, a deeply introspective body of work far removed from the glitter-smeared hits her fans, the Animals, were reared on. The singer has been put through the wringer the last couple of years: her legal battle against producer Dr Luke, real name Lukasz Gottwald, who she accused of sexual and emotional abuse, allegations he has always denied, is ongoing.
- READ MORE: Kesha on wild new album ‘Gag Order’: “I’m happy when I feel seen, heard and accepted”
In the manifesto for her latest offering, she explained: “I let my darkness see the light.” Over the course of 11 tracks, produced by industry legend Rick Rubin, listeners are given an access-all-areas pass to an emotional exorcism as Kesha does some serious soul-searching. On trippy synth-splashed lead single ‘Eat the Acid’, she reflects on a spiritual awakening she had in the summer of 2020: “The universe said now’s your time/And told me everything’s alright.”
No punches are pulled on ‘Fine Line’, the plinking piano and string arrangement providing a false sense of calm before a blistering storm of lacerating lyrics: All the doctors and lawyers cut the tongue out my mouth/I’ve been hiding my anger, but bitch look at me now. It’s a sequel of sorts to 2017’s howl-at-the-sky anthem Praying: “I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain/Oh, when I’m finished, they won’t even know your name”, she once sang.
There’s barely a whiff of chart-troubling hits. Kesha has said that was not the name of the game this time around. ‘Only Love Can Save Us Now’ is the closest thing to a bonafide bop, snarky verses riding along a pulsing beat that unexpectedly breaks into a Kumbaya-style chorus, complete with hand claps. Hate Me Harder pricks the ears, too, a mid-tempo middle-finger at trolls: “You say I’m a has-been/You say I look older/Nobody was asking”
Sonic risks are taken, but they don’t always pay off. ‘Take The Drama’, a tumult of squelching bass that concludes with Kesha’s chant-like desire to be reincarnated as a, er, house cat. The record finishes on a high note with ballad ‘Happy’, bubbling with hope, vulnerability and Kesha’s sweetest vocals to date; in fact, there is a notable (and appreciable) absence of Autotune throughout. Probing, purging and unflinching personal, ‘Gag Order’ – despite its title – is the embodiment of an artist who has found their voice.
- Release date: May 19, 2023
- Record label: Kemosabe Records