Following a drip feed of singles beginning with the anthemic “Raising Hell” in October, Kesha released her fourth studio album, “High Road”, on January 31st. On the first listen of the album’s 16 tracks, I couldn’t help but wonder why Kesha had selected such a wide pick-a-mix of songs that cross several genres and previous decades of musical styling. The songs on “High Road” are perhaps meant to satisfy her artistic need to create music unbidden by rules, while remaining conscious of her early fanbase, those familiar with mega hits like “Tik Tok”, “Blah Blah Blah”, and “We R Who We R”.
Does this hodgepodge of styles work? It’s a conundrum. The songs that stand out on the first few listens are stripped back, lyrically stellar, and showcase a vocal range and vocal sweetness that gets lost in the over-produced tracks that are reminiscent of an old-school Kesha. The pre-album-release singles “My Own Dance” and “Tonight” are songs in the latter category.
The sweet notes of a finger-picked guitar in “Resentment”, a country-tinged song featuring Sturgill Simpson, Brian Wilson, and Wrabel, showcase the grownup, introspective Kesha. There’s the gorgeous vocal build up and message in “Shadow”, where she refuses to take the dark road and insists on love over hate. “Cowboy Blues” is a fun song that manages to turn a dive bar one-night stand into an existential soulmate crisis. The weakest links in the album are in the middle of the track list. “Birthday Suit” and “Kinky” are heavy on old-school production, auto-tune and party lyrics. Subsequently, these tracks stick out like a sore thumb.
“High Road” does finish strong. Kesha’s vocal power is most evident in the high notes of “Father Daughter Dance” and in the upbeat message and signature vibrato of “Chasing Thunder”. The final track, “Summer”, is a late addition to “High Road”, having only been added to the album five days before the release. The recent addition is apparent, as the modern and fresh romantic song could have easily been the lead single.
With “High Road”, Kesha moves beyond the emancipation proclamation of her 2017 release, “Rainbow”. Independence replaces defiance, and there’s a playful and grateful woman taking the high road when producing a body of work on her own terms. There’s ample reason to give “High Road” a listen, and I’ve already added half a dozen tunes to my personal playlist.
Written by Lynette Diaz
Lynette has championed women in music since the mid-2000s, starting with the founding of the New Zealand Women’s Acoustic Collective and Femacoustica Radio Show. She is the current host of The Creative Spear podcast. She enjoys performing her own music and exploring nature and photography in the coastal areas near Wellington, New Zealand. More on Lynette at lynettediaz.com
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