Wow, it’s been a while since I did a new album review, hasn’t it? Well you may be dismayed to see that it’s by Ke$ha, but what were you expecting? Ben Howard? Sometimes I don’t think you know me at all! Anyway, “Animal” wasn’t a bad debut at all; totally throwaway but with some great pop songs. This was reflected in her great showing on the singles chart over 2010 & 2011.
I spotted the Deluxe version in one of HMV’s clearouts for less than £4. I’m sure that was a mistake, judging by their stingy discounts so far. OK so they are going out of business, but they are hardly helping themselves by doubling prices and putting them on buy-one-get-one-free. But I digress. This turned out to be a pretty solid album, and while she’s unlikely to make the next “Imagine” (or insert some other worthy real-music classic), but can’t we have a bit of fun?
07 Warrior – Saying all this, I think this is one of the weaker songs to open with. It’s just a bit shouty to start with. I get it as a mission statement, another battle cry for all the nerds, geeks and misfits etc. I think Gaga got this one covered. It doesn’t sound too bad, those distorted synths on the bridges are nice but this falls a little flat for me.
09 Die young – This is more like it. Ke$ha might not be claiming this one post-Connecticut shooting, but there’s no link there. It’s just an assured electro-dancepop comeback track. It bridges the gap from the last album nicely, covering well-trodden themes like getting drunk and dancing. I think all the production comes together on this, and makes each stage sound distinct but fits it all together well. The synthy riff on the chorus is great, this is Ke$ha in her element.
10 C’Mon – Oh forget what I said, THIS is Ke$ha in her element. Again the production saves the day, as Ke$ha’s not got a great range, but she gets to do her bit of rapping that breaks up the singing nicely. Things really get going with that gorgeous rich electro chorus, perfect for turning up in the car on the way to your sober desk job (*sigh*). That slow middle-eight is a cute little aside, and just amplifies the impact when that last chorus slams in. LOVE THIS.
09 Thinking of you – I’m happy to hear this sort of thing from Ke$ha. Sure I’m a little surprised she’s managed to build a career after Tik Tok (especially with Blah Blah Blah as a followup), but she’s had plenty of detractors and she’s still here. Here’s a cheerfully borrowed Katy Perry track dedicated to an ex-boyfriend, with a “look at me now, I’m amazing and you are shit” vibe. I’m in love with that pseudo-Daft Punk middle-eight, what a vocoder frenzy, love it!
08 Crazy Kids – OK there’s only so many of these “youth is amazing, let’s get fucked on whisky” tracks I can stomach as a boring old fart who never did this still when I was a kid. Sigh. But anyway, it just comes off as a poorer cousin of “Die Young” with a few dubstep whomp-whomps thrown in and a few half-assed raps to boot. Not the best even if there are bits I like, like the acoustic guitar-tinged bridges and the middle-eight. Actually, it’s not that bad at all.
08 Wherever you are – I’m glad she’s realised we don’t really want ballads from her, there are plenty of people doing those. She gets her Katy Perry head on again, which I’ve just realised is because Dr Luke produced practically the whole album, whoops. This is does feel like what a 2013 Katy Perry album would sound like, though she’s not allowed to work with Dr Luke is she? Her loss is Ke$ha’s gain anyway. It’s a cute, loved-up song with some pulsing dancepop beats thrown in.
09 Dirty Love (with Iggy Pop) – What an unlikely mix, though I totally get the impression this is the sort of music she’d LOVE to make. Iggy Pop feels like less of a catch after his car insurance adverts with that freaky puppet. But it’s a great match, with Ke$ha loving every minute and giving everything to that manic vocal, while Iggy phones it in a bit. It’s coarse and noisy, with some really cringey lyrics, but it totally works. Unexpectedly one of the highlights of the album.
08 Wonderland – Uh oh, midtempo time. But I suppose you don’t want to follow a song like “Dirty Love” with a lesser version of it. She’s surprisingly good at this, considering her limited range (or at least use of her range) on the uptempos. It plods along, but it’s got a nice affectionate and wistful feel to it. Doesn’t sound any worse than a lot of the two-bit singer-songwriters I listen to anyway. The middle-eight is nice, even if it doesn’t lead anywhere new.
08 Only wanna dance with you – Is she pitching for an iPod advert soundtrack? It’s very bouncy and totally fitting for awful youngsters with stupid hair and worse hats that I see on mobile phone adverts these days. It’s not exactly “Call me maybe” but that’s not far off the mark tone-wise, though she strikes a slightly rockier tone. Is that a cameo from Iggy Pop? Oddly uncredited, but it feels like an obvious link to make, as this is more in spirit with the sound of “Dirty Love” than much of the album.
08 Supernatural – Back to dancepop, a little more actively dancey this time. It sounds like one of her older songs, I can’t quite remember how “We R who we R” goes (or how she spells it). It throws in the usual tricks, a whoomp-whoomp buildup to the chorus, it’s like Ke$ha with the last few years of Rihanna in the back of its mind. That’s not a bad thing though, it feels a bit samey after all the other dancepop stuff, but still enjoyable. Wow, I’m rating this album highly aren’t I?
09 All that matters – The first track without Dr Luke on production, but we have Max Martin and Shellback to pick up the slack. They really do a great job though, after all this dancepop it would be easy to be a little bored, but this is really solid stuff. OK lyrically it’s wafer-thin, but it’s got a great urgent energy to it, and has my favourite little bits where the chorus beat just smashes in, and a great middle-eight. Third single?
09 Love into the light – End of the main album, and it turns out she’s got a slow song. She’s the sole writer too! It shows, with her honest confessions about how she realises she’s never going to be a good girl, but she’s a good person who just wants to have fun. It’s really endearing, I never like when people are singled out as hate figures or objects of ridicule (see also Bieber), and I doubt this will change any of those people’s minds, but this is a great closing track. It’s even got this gorgeous production on it, finishing on a resounding positive note.
08 Last Goodbye – I got the deluxe version, so let’s have a look at those 4 tracks (a bit stingy but whatever). Dr Luke’s back on this breakup tale, thankful for the time spent together. While there is a sense of melancholy in the air, the production makes it sound an otherwise sad story sound a bit flippant. Ke$ha’s ex has found a new girl and it’s made it too hard to be friends with him, despite her fond memories of their relationship. It’s an emotional topic, but a little squandered on such generic production and hidden on the bonus disc.
08 Gold Trans Am – Oh lord, this is real trash. Who WROTE this? Full of cheesy one-liners in a song about fucking someone in an all-American gold sports car. Ke$ha’s not lost her touch with this sort of stuff, it just feels totally believable for her to sing these songs. Really tacky but that’s the appeal, a total swaggering American slut anthem, and endearingly entertaining.
07 Out alive – Phew, they aren’t giving Katy Perry anything for her new album are they? Perhaps a dance anthem too far, but it’s another decent one. This doesn’t seem to have Ke$ha’s personality stamped on it in the same way earlier ones did. It’s a solid dance track, just a bit too generic, chasing the sounds of hit dance records of the last few years a bit too closely.
06 Past lives – Ke$ha wrote this, with production from the Flaming Lips. This doesn’t go off quite as well as her other solo write, but it’s a sweet ballad about a love that straddles centuries. OK it’s a bit sickly, and the idea is better than the execution. Again I see why this was exiled to the bonus disc, it doesn’t really fit with the rest. A bit of a damp note to end on, but the main album was safe.
OK 16 tracks, but it was a surprising joy to listen to. Ke$ha really found her feet with this. Dr Luke helps a lot to make this a great dancepop album, but Ke$ha’s heart really seems to lie with rockier stuff and her enjoyment is tangible on those tracks.
As much as I was expecting throwaway pop music, I found something better and I’m very pleased for her. It’s an album that rarely (if at all) loses its energy, and has enough of a varied sound to keep fresh. “Love into the light” is a wonderful debut for her as a solo writer, and gives me hope for what might come on the third album. She has successfully broadened her sound without losing what made her famous in the first place, but I can only wonder what might happen if she just went all-out rock next time.
Keepers for the iPod: Die Young, C’Mon, Thinking of you, Wherever you are, Dirty Love, Only wanna dance with you, Supernatural, All that matters, Love into the light, Last goodbye, Gold Trans Am.