In 2020, I didn’t have the energy to write about music at all, even when I really wanted to. As such, I will be posting reviews of my favorite albums of last year — approximately as the anniversary of their release approaches — to allow myself to capture what made me love them so much. Here is the second!
If any artist has been through hell and back, it’s Kesha. After pursuing a tumultuous legal battle with former producer/label president Dr. Luke (that is, unfortunately, still ongoing), the singer released 2017’s somber-yet-victorious Rainbow to critical acclaim; while the country-glam-pop-rock record was a beautiful palette cleanser to reintroduce Kesha to the public after an extended hiatus, it still didn’t tell the singer’s whole story. Wishing to meld the party of her initial releases with the emotional territory explored on Rainbow, fourth album High Road is a manifestation of everything Kesha and her fans have come to love from her music.
While spreading the fun around the tracklist much better than Rainbow did — dominated by ballads on the first half and relegating rowdier songs to the second half — the first four cuts on High Road are straight bangers. Opener “Tonight” is a red herring with its belted intro before devolving into pure debauchery, “My Own Dance” sounds like something from a recent Panic! at the Disco album, lead single “Raising Hell” mixes gospel and sing-rapping, and the title track is the closest the singer gets to her Ke$ha heyday (even if later track “Kinky” boasts a feature from the singer’s former persona).
Eschewing genre and theme, each song is allowed to find its own sound from their country and pop frameworks. “Honey” and “Cowboy Blues” lean closer to folk than anything else, “Little Bit of Love” is a big band jam, “Birthday Suit” sounds like video game music, and “Chasing Thunder” makes the argument for a roots rock album. Lyrically, she exorcises both romantic and familial relationships (“Resentment” and “Father Daughter Dance,” respectively), gives detractors a gentle shove out of her spotlight (“Shadow”), and escaping further turmoil with her best friend (“BFF,” featuring Wrabel, the song’s namesake). Finding a balance between the purposeful hot mess of Animal, Cannibal, and Warrior and the soulful survivor on Rainbow, High Road is Kesha — after all these years — at her most authentic.
Standout tracks: “Tonight,” “High Road,” “Cowboy Blues,” “Kinky”