Album Review: Kesha – High Road

By Lauren McCain, Contributor
[RCA/Kemosabe; 2020]
Rating: 6.5/10 

Key tracks: “Tonight”, “Kinky (ft. Ke$ha)”, “Summer”

Ah, welcome back to the gaudy, paint-splashed, sparkling chaos that is a quintessential Kesha album. Kesha’s fifth studio album, High Road marks a return to the same pop sentiments of her early dollar sign days. And weren’t those the days? 

After shooting to fame from a glitter cannon in 2009 with her unforgettable party girl anthem, “TiK ToK”, Ke$ha—dollar sign still intact—dominated the radio with her sleazy synth-pop and autotuned greatness, and she continued to do so for several years. However, in 2014, things took a dark turn when Kesha accused her manager and producer, Dr. Luke, of sexual assault and abuse

Read more: Album Review: Hannah Diamond – Reflections

Three years later, amidst chaos, trauma and an ongoing legal battle, Kesha released her fourth studio album, Rainbow. Rainbow was Kesha’s exhale; it was an outlet for her expression and something audiences had never heard from her—a ballad-heavy and focused pop album that was full of raw emotion.

One of Kesha’s largest points of contention in her early career was the lack of creative freedom that she had in her own music. All of her songs had to fit the party girl mold that producers created for her. With Rainbow, it finally seemed as though Kesha had broken free of her creative shackles and was making music that she believed in. 

High Road picks up where Rainbow left off in Kesha’s healing process and creative journey. Rather than making another album set in a wake of sadness and emotion, Kesha shakes things up. In an interview for the Atlantic she says, “I don’t have to live in being a tragedy, or being a party girl. I can be all of the things.” 

The first track, “Tonight”, begins with dreamy piano and soaring vocals from Kesha before an electronic trap beat drops and 2012 Kesha is suddenly back on the scene, rapping about her friends calling an Uber for her because she lost her phone. The energized club anthem is, at its core, about self-love, and it is fittingly followed by several other pop anthems with similar themes, like the un-bothered lyrics of “My Own Dance” and the explicit uplifting gospel-inspired tune, “Raising Hell”. 

However, things quickly switch up on the album.

Upon first listen, High Road may feel like a scattershot disaster capable of inflicting whiplash. Mixed in with the bold pop tunes are quiet, country, strumming ballads like “Resentment”, featuring Sturgill Simpson and Brian Wilson. Furthermore, worthy of noting is the endearing acoustic track “Cowboy Blues”. 

’80s synth-pop is also thrown into the pot on Kesha’s wholesome friendship anthem, “BFF”, featuring Wrabel. Then, somewhere in there, fits the polka-accordion disaster that is “Potato Song (Cuz I Want To)”, in which the latter part of the title can only serve as Kesha’s reasoning for putting it on the album. 

Albeit the ups and downs of High Road are not a detriment to its overall success, possibly because Kesha intended for the album to be all over the place, much like human nature. It is natural to be out partying with your friends one day and then be lying in bed with your three cats the next, obsessing over some boy who you met once three years ago in Nashville (but you can’t remember his last name). We are all scattershot, emotional disasters—and High Road gets that. 

Is this album perfect? Absolutely not. Is it cohesive? Not even close. But after a few tracks, the streamlined message of self-acceptance begins to shine through and the album is suddenly about being brave enough to indulge in self-love and having the ability to express yourself without control or judgment.

At its core, High Road is unwaveringly and proudly Kesha, and somehow, it works.

Listen here: 

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