Genre: Pop, electro-pop
Label: Kemosabe, RCA
Kesha’s Warrior is the work of a chameleon. It’s quite staggering to think that even this relatively late release merits inclusion in the ranks of best pop albums of the year, especially given it comes from an artist who seemed barely capable of one obnoxious gimmick years ago. It seems Kesha was either playing down her ability on her previous releases or chose to save it all for the all-important sophomore effort, because Warrior is quite fantastic. It’s almost impossible to dislike because it barely has a coherent form. It’s a series of metamorphoses. To dismiss it would merely translate as not liking certain songs, because the breadth and variety of ideas and styles on show here is quite astounding.
In this sense, it’s worth remembering that Kesha – much like Bruno Mars – was an established songwriter before becoming a well-known name in her own right. Her songwriting talents are put to excellent use here as she channels a full gamut of influences and inspirations. The result is a dazzlingly energetic collection of power pop songs, laudable for their chutzpah and boldness and willingness to experiment. Granted, there is an unfortunate flip side to this. Forays into more mature, thoughtful territory feel betrayed when they’re followed by an archetypal, brasher track. Likewise, some of her more gleaming pop numbers bear far too vivid a similarity – be it intentional or not – to Katy Perry’s Technicolor output (most potently on “Supernatural”). But to focus on this feels like nitpicking on an album that’s hardly meant to be taken that seriously, and which, for its diversity and spirit and refusal to pigeonhole itself, should be commended.
Kesha lays out her game plan quite vividly with an opening slew of fantastic numbers. Title track “Warrior” is a terrific opener, all anarchy and brazen energy. It’s catchy and rhythmic, keeping its electronic elements to a minimum. The hardened, soaring refrain of ‘warrior’ during the chorus makes for a stirring battle cry and gives her voice a rare opportunity to take centre stage. “Die Young” is the first of her Katy Perry moments, but it’s far more charming than anything the latter is wont to put together. The message is enthusiastic and the instrumentation surprisingly effective, tempering the song with sparkling, airy textures during the interludes and breakdowns. “Thinking of You” infuses its lively, bouncing rhythm with traces of acerbic aggression. There’s an odd, but winning, contrast between the almost breezy tone of the music and the dismissive lyrics. The frequent change in style and tone on these tracks is an early feature of Warrior and its shapeshifting tendencies. It makes for compelling songs, with depth though not nuance, and ensures a solid link with her prior output. It is later on the album that she begins to unfurl something newer and bolder, treading water in different genres before plunging right in.
The most notable turnaround on the album is the delicious “Dirty Pop.” One of the only – if not the only – songs on the album that satisfies her stated desire to use more electric guitars, this is an uproarious, scenery-chewing, fun-loving throwback piece with guest vocals from none other than Iggy Pop. It draws equally from the bouncing days of disco and the plasticine of the 90s together with something surlier and harsher, creating a provocative medley of glamorous non-sophistication. The vocal interplay is delightfully charged, with Kesha unveiling a gorgeously raspy aesthetic in her performance.
In turn, this seismic shift is followed by another dramatic departure. “Wonderland” is a watery, very English pop track. It’s easygoing, put upon but disaffected, and led by a seamless, clear vocal line. It seems observational and curious and sounds incredibly mature and collected next to her other songs. “Only Wanna Dance With You” stays roughly in the same territory but is far more polished, right down to the amplified vocals in the chorus. The effect is one of enthusiasm and exuberance, even if the lyrics don’t always reflect same, and it has a natural life and vitality that distinguishes it from more manufactured numbers.
Warrior is a stunning move for Kesha, providing a tantalising glimpse of her potential for growth as an artist. It’s an odd mixture as it switches from her trademark firebrand irreverence into actual maturity, gleaming pop numbers, and once-offs that channel something more old school and defiant. The inklings of growth are very compelling if sometimes underdeveloped, but it suggests her trajectory is far from clear-cut. There is quite literally something here for everyone and you’ll be hard pressed to find an album as raucously erratic this year.
Review written by Grace Duffy