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Troubled star fights back with eclectic record she was born to make


It’s impossible to discuss Kesha’s third studio effort without referring to the five years of trauma she’s suffered since her second. If only for the fact the now dollar sign-less star appears to allude to her experiences on every single one of its 14 self-penned tracks.

Of course, the 30-year-old has certainly earned the right to use Rainbow as a form of catharsis. Since the release of 2012’s Warrior, Kesha has checked into rehab for an eating disorder, been embroiled in a bitter legal battle with Sony and, most harrowingly of all, accused former frequent collaborator Dr. Luke of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

Rainbow may not be a particularly subtle affair – it opens with a campfire singalong named “Bastards” (“But they won’t break my spirit, I won’t let ’em win/I’ll just keep on living, keep on living, oh/The way I wanna live”) and you’re never more than a couple of lines away from a therapy session cliché, but it’s refreshing to hear a major pop star sing every word with so much conviction.

Indeed, Rainbow is nothing if not a purely Kesha affair. She may have found fame with EDM-lite anthems about getting trashed. But from her previous Iggy Pop collaboration to her talk of being inspired by Neil Young, there always appears to have been a more intelligent and musically adventurous character just waiting to burst out.

And here, with a little help an eclectic range of guest stars, she fully embraces it. Ben Folds works his magic with a swelling orchestral arrangement on the baroque title track; Eagles of Death Metal bring some pedal to the metal on the scuzzy garage rock of “Let ‘Em Talk” and “Boogie Feet”; while the late Sharon Jones’ brilliantly tight backing band The Dap-Kings show up on “Woman,” a defiant retro-soul number which appears to reference not just one but two Destiny’s Child classics (“I buy my own things/I pay my own bills/These diamond rings, my automobiles/Everything I got, I bought it”).

Best of all is “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You),” a spirited take on the number that Kesha’s Nashville hitmaker mother Pebe Sebert penned for Dolly Parton which features the self-proclaimed Backwoods Barbie herself.

In fact, it’s the latter’s classic country sound where Kesha sounds most comfortable, whether it’s on “Godzilla,” a goofy little ditty about bringing home the iconic monster home to meet her mom, the contemplative bluegrass of closer “Spaceship” or “Hunt You Down,” a rollocking Grand Ole Opry-style number which suggests Reese Witherspoon may have some competition if ever there’s a Walk the Line sequel.

Rainbow’s laissez-faire approach means it’s difficult to see much following the powerful soul-baring of “Praying” into the Top 40. Only the joyously uplifting “Learn to Let Go” and the playful dance-pop of “Boots” come anywhere close to the radio-friendly sound that Kesha previously pursued.

But you get the feeling that Kesha doesn’t care anyway. Rainbow is simply the record she needed to make. And at a time where most pop music is either designed by committee or drowning in beigeness, it’s also the kind of individual and achingly honest record we needed to hear.

Stream or Download Rainbow on iTunes/Amazon.