Review: It’s messy and crazy and deep—Kesha returns roaring

Kesha, “High Road” (Kemosabe/RCA Records)

Kesha’s new album starts out on a portentous and soaring note with the singer on the opening song “Tonight” in full Broadway mode, belting out “Take me out toooonniiiigghht.” But 40 seconds in, it dissolves into a messy club banger complete with random expletives, crowd screams, a lost phone and the singer high and drunk as she readies to hit the town.

In other words, welcome back, Kesha.

“High Road” is Kesha at her wonderfully anarchic, tipsy, profound and goofy best. Few artists can portray themselves as silly, airy party girls and then utterly subvert that very image, all in the same song. “I don’t do that dance,” she warns us on the new album. “I only do my own dance.”

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“High Road” has a complex mix of textures, ranging from the gospel-influenced dance hall of “Raising Hell” with Big Freedia to the somber country of “Resentment” with Sturgill Simpson, Wrabel and Brian Wilson. Kesha can go from quietly singing about a lover’s alienation with a revered Beach Boy to “Birthday Suit,” a horny, cornball ditty that uses ’80s video game sounds to seduce a lover (“You got any secret tattoos?”).

It wouldn’t be a Kesha record without some funny recorded vignettes — in one, the Spice Girls are gently mocked — or bizarre songs that are strangely addictive, like the utterly oddball, tuba-led “Potato Song (Cuz I Want To).” That’s not to mean she can’t drop the zaniness and deliver a devastating emotional punch, as she does in “Father Daughter Dance,” a heartbreaking ode to living without a parent.

She can go from the carefully processed, naughty banger “Kinky” to the stripped-down acoustic twang of “Cowboy Blues.” Her lyrics are often clever throughout: “Don’t circumcise my circumstance,” she sings in one song. “Go get your shadow out of my sunshine,” she offers in another. Kesha even mocks an old self on “Kinky” by crediting the feature performance to “Ke$ha”).

Another highlight is the sweet “BFF,” which is both incredibly specific to Kesha — rehab, tattoo, dark times, Grammys — and also a sweet ode to friendship. Pebe Sebert, Kesha’s mom, is a co-writer and offers backup vocals. “You build me up/When I’m feeling low, low, low.” That’s also what Kesha does best. Welcome back.

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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