Kesha explores versatility in her new album ‘High Road’

Album artwork for Kesha’s High Road. Photo courtesy of Pitchfork.

By Rob Mohr and Mary Katherine Saye
Executive Staff

MK: It may be dangerous to admit that I have disregarded Kesha’s music in the past. Yet, upon the release of her 2017 album, Rainbow, I heard a new voice with confidence that surprised me in songs such as “Woman,” “Let ‘Em Talk,” and “Praying.” She kept this voice in her newest album, High Road, which was released on January 31, and confirmed to listeners her new attitude isn’t going anywhere. 

There are sixteen songs on the album, starting with “Tonight.” I have always associated Kesha with creating songs perfect for dancing to at a party, and this song definitely fits that standard. It starts with a slow piano, and it seems like the song might stay with this repetitive, easy tune. But the song quickly shifts and it becomes a true Kesha song with her semi-rapping about how fun it is to go out with her friends and in that moment, she thinks it’s “gonna feel like this forever.”

The third song of the album reminds a listener that the Kesha of her last album is still alive, well, and “Raising Hell.” Perhaps the most energizing of the album, this song incorporates an unexpected group of genres. “Raising Hell” mixes together pop, gospel, and EDM, making a song one can’t help but uncontrollably dance to, even if it’s not in the shower. 

The next song, also the album name, includes Kesha’s trademark semi-rapping where she shrugs off being called “dumb” and asks for a drink. Need I say more? This song is an interesting blend of EDM and piano, affirming that Kesha’s pleasantly experimental work is unique in the genre of pop. 

The last song of Kesha’s album, “Summer,” is a mix of upbeat and slow moments that isn’t quite like any other song in the album. With a blend of horns and a banjo thrown in just because Kesha can, this song was uplifting but not overly heavy like some songs in her album. Overall, Kesha succeeds in making songs in this album that I believe are true to the confident voice she had in her last album. No song follows the same structure, and each boasts a different story, which is what makes this album worth listening to. 

Rob: For me, Kesha’s most memorable work came with her debut album Animal and its EP Cannibal back in 2010. Songs like “TiK ToK” and “Blow” served as the soundtrack to numerous middle school bus rides during Ke$ha’s reign over the pop charts. However, that was a decade ago, and now we’re in a post dollar sign, post Dr. Luke case, post rehab world. I didn’t listen to 2017’s Rainbow, but it’s clear that the Kesha of 2020 and the Ke$ha of 2010 are not the same musician.

High Road sees Kesha flirt with a variety of different sounds and styles. For me, the album has two distinct moods. There’s the loud, brash, and unapologetic party music found in songs like the aforementioned “Trouble” and “Raising Hell” (which features New Orleans bounce queen Big Freedia) coupled with slower, more emotional tracks like “Cowboy Blues” and “Resentment” with country-rocker Sturgill Simpson, Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson, and Wrabel, who co-wrote this song and many others on High Road.

“Cowboy Blues” might imply a country-dipped sound, but the tuning on the guitar almost makes it sound like a ukulele. It’s the only instrument on the song, apart from a few vocal effects and, frankly, it feels over-produced. The verses end with near spoken word, which feels pulled from the world of bedroom pop (think Clairo, Rex Orange County, mxmtoon, etc.). There’s nothing wrong with this exchange, except that Kesha’s version sounds too polished, which leaves it feeling distant. It’s a minor gripe on a song that shows a great deal of versatility.

I suppose there should be a third category of mood to describe “Potato Song (Cuz I Want To)” — miscellaneous. The opening horns sound like Kesha on the soundtrack for 2017’s The Greatest Showman if it was a period piece. It’s ridiculous and out of place, especially when the next song, “BFF” is an ode to a best friend. However, in a lot of ways, it encapsulates the new Kesha perfectly: playful and unapologetic.

High Road tries to do a lot of things, sometimes all at once, and it can feel a little bit disjointed as a result. Despite this lack of continuity, it still feels like a Kesha album. That is to say, anything but boring.