Ten years ago, the name Kesha would’ve elicited a very different reaction than it does today. At the time of hits such as “TiK ToK” and “Your Love Is My Drug,” the singer was known for raunchy electro-pop hits that publicly established her as the signature party girl of the early 2010s. But after a nasty legal battle with her former producer and alleged abuser, Kesha has established herself as an advocate for the underdog, speaking out for women and LGBTQ+ rights. Her last album, Rainbow, was an emotional reckoning, exposing her powerhouse vocals and challenging all who doubted her strength and perseverance. The record concluded a chapter of pain for Kesha, and left many wondering what would come next.
Kesha’s new album, High Road, seems to indicate that she’s just as confused as we are. The opening track, “Tonight,” serves as a perfect representation of the album: a combination of vastly different sounds mashed together with no particular rhyme or reason. The opening chorus is an electronic ballad, but jarringly transitions to an off-key dance beat very reminiscent of old Ke$ha — the rest of the album continues to echo this same energy.
The tracks can be mostly categorized into three main categories. Songs like “Birthday Suit” and “Potato Song (Cuz I Want To)” feel as if they were plucked straight off of the 2010 Animal record, while other tracks such as “Chasing Thunder” and “Shadow” channel Rainbow-era energy with robust vocals and empowering lyrics. To top it off, there are a few ballads, like “Cowboy Blues” and “Resentment,” which dig deeper into Kesha’s country influence, refreshingly lacking her trademark auto-tune sound. All of the High Road tracks seem to either fall into one of these categories or are a mix of several.
But that’s not to say the entire album is unenjoyable. Many of the individual tracks have merit, and at times the mishmash of genres really works to Kesha’s benefit, creating unique and fun-sounding tracks. “Raising Hell” has a strong electronic dance beat, but still plays with country sounds and vocals to create a catchy pop hit. In contrast, “Honey” is sassy and vaguely R&B reminiscent, reminding the listener of just how capable Kesha is at multigenre production. These songs establish Kesha as a complicated and talented artist, but the album itself seems to be lacking clear self-understanding.
Thematically, Kesha jumps between love songs and grandiose declarations of empowerment, from emotional lyrics about loss to inane choruses about potatoes and partying. Even in her most powerful songs, such as “Shadow” — which pays homage to how far she has come since her most painful years — she punctures the intensity with a shallow interlude, proclaiming, “If you don’t like me you can suck my d—.” It is clear she’s trying to mirror her dual public identities in her music, but she fails to maintain this delicate balance and occasionally ends up not really satisfying either option. The jarring switch from emotional to silly is at times extremely effective in relaying her personality, but at other times it diminishes the value of the message she is trying to convey. Perhaps this is the merit of High Road, as it seems to authentically represent the chaos of finding one’s sound. Kesha is clearly in a mode of exploration right now, trying different genres and musicalities to hopefully find what fits her best. The bravery and innovation of High Road should be recognized, but unfortunately it doesn’t hit quite all the notes it needed to. From carefree pop to desperately sad poetry, Kesha has tried it all — hopefully the wandering journey that is High Road will eventually lead to the pot of treasure left behind after Rainbow.