Ke­sha dis­perses clouds with her own ‘Rainbow’

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - Ke­sha “Rainbow” Ke­mosabe Records / RCA Records

MIKAEL WOOD POP MU­SIC CRITIC

“I’ve been through hell and back,” Ke­sha sings on her new al­bum, and even ca­sual lis­ten­ers are likely to know the cir­cum­stances of her trip.

Three years ago, this pop star, fa­mous for her bleary 2009 smash “Tik Tok,” filed a bomb­shell law­suit against Lukasz Gottwald, aka Dr. Luke, the pro­ducer and song­writer with whom she’d col­lab­o­rated for nearly a decade. Ke­sha ac­cused Dr. Luke of phys­i­cal and emo­tional abuse and said he’d raped her; the pro­ducer re­sponded with a law­suit of his own in which he char­ac­ter­ized Ke­sha’s claims as an at­tempt to ex­tort him dur­ing a con­tract rene­go­ti­a­tion.

Since then, the le­gal fight has pro­ceeded ag­o­niz­ingly slowly, with each grim de­vel­op­ment at­tract­ing wide­spread at­ten­tion. What wasn’t clear un­til now is that Ke­sha feels she made it back from hell.

For all the public scru­tiny of her and Dr. Luke’s bat­tle, Ke­sha has been largely un­heard through­out her or­deal — the re­sult, she says, of a re­stric­tive agree­ment with the pro­ducer that ef­fec­tively si­lenced her. In 2016 she toured for the first time in years but re­lied on old songs and pointed cover ver­sions of well-known tunes like Les­ley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.”

By de­sign or by ne­ces­sity, Ke­sha’s story seemed to have stalled, and in a state of mis­ery she was al­legedly barred from ex­plain­ing.

She’s fi­nally mov­ing again with “Rainbow,” her first al­bum since “War­rior” in 2012. Due Fri­day, it’s a vivid ac­count of a wo­man’s un­wanted con­fronta­tion with a pow­er­ful tor­men­tor — “a bo­gey­man un­der my bed putting crazy thoughts in­side my head,” as she puts it

in “Learn to Let Go” — as well as her de­ter­mi­na­tion to leave the re­sult­ing dam­age be­hind.

“I could fight for­ever, but life’s too short,” she de­clares to open the record in “Bas­tards,” and what’s re­mark­able is that she makes that con­clu­sion sound like a vic­tory, not a de­feat.

“Rainbow” is full of mo­tion. In song af­ter song, Ke­sha — who broke through with “Tik Tok’s” know­ing depic­tion of twen­tysome­thing in­do­lence — is look­ing for­ward, putting more dis­tance be­tween her and the trauma she refers to in the song “Pray­ing” as “the flames.”

“I’m walk­ing on air, kick­ing my blues,” she sings in “Boots,” while “Hymn” in­sists, “We just ride, we just cruise/Liv­ing like there’s noth­ing left to lose.” (“Pray­ing,” “Hymn,” all these men­tions of hell: If you’re de­tect­ing a re­li­gious streak on “Rainbow,” it’s def­i­nitely here.)

The al­bum closes with “Space­ship,” in which she says her peo­ple are com­ing to take her away: “Lord knows this planet feels like a hope­less place/Thank God I’m go­ing back home to outer space.”

This idea of out­run­ning her trou­bles may have been the only kind of tri­umph avail­able to Ke­sha. Her var­i­ous court cases are still grind­ing through the jus­tice sys­tem, with no im­me­di­ate res­o­lu­tion on the hori­zon.

In fact, “Rainbow” is be­ing re­leased through the record la­bel Dr. Luke founded — a per­verse sce­nario no mat­ter how the par­ties’ guilt or in­no­cence is even­tu­ally de­cided.

Yet Ke­sha’s im­pres­sive singing per­suades you she’s truly found peace by mov­ing on. Her per­for­mance in the ti­tle track — a lush, Beach Boys-in­spired swirl of pi­ano, horns and strings — is the best she’s ever sounded: strong and gutsy, but with a trace of the vul­ner­a­bil­ity you can hear her fig­ur­ing out how to value again af­ter years of forced de­fense.

A vir­tual li­brary of emo­tions, it’s not a song any­one fa­mil­iar with Ke­sha’s stupid­bril­liant de­but could’ve seen com­ing.

And it’s not the only one like that on “Rainbow.” Though she was set­ting her party-hearty thoughts against eclec­tic ar­range­ments from the start, Ke­sha roams much more freely here, from the scuzzy garage rock of “Let ’Em Talk” to the swing­ing neo-soul of “Wo­man” to the sleek elec­tronic pop of “Hymn.”

For “Space­ship” and “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Can­dle to You)” — the lat­ter an oldie writ­ten by her mother, the vet­eran coun­try song­writer Pebe Se­bert — Ke­sha went to Nashville and put to­gether a cred­i­ble roots-mu­sic band to back her up; the re­sult re­minds you she grew up there be­fore mov­ing to Los An­ge­les and team­ing with Dr. Luke. (Other pro­duc­ers and play­ers on the al­bum, which doesn’t credit Dr. Luke as a con­trib­u­tor, in­clude Ben Folds, Ricky Reed, the DapKings Horns and the Ea­gles of Death Metal.)

That sonic jum­ble can make “Rainbow” feel all over the place, which it is.

But right now a co­her­ent story seems less im­por­tant to Ke­sha than one in which she has a voice — and one that sim­ply keeps go­ing.

Christopher Polk Getty Im­ages for Spo­tify

SINGER Ke­sha at a Spo­tify-hosted lis­ten­ing event in Mal­ibu last month to mark the re­lease of her al­bum.

RCA Records

“RAINBOW” is scat­tered yet gutsy too.

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