If any artist has encapsulated the past decade of pop, it’s Kesha. Her journey through the 2010s was a long, hard road, but she always reflects the times, from “Tik Tok” to TikTok. On the excellent High Road, she fuses all her passions together—the road she’s traveling in the title is a spiritual path, but it’s also “high” in the earthier sense. She sets the tone for the whole album in “My Own Dance” when she boasts, “Woke up this morning feeling myself / Hung over as hell like 2012.” This woman has definitely earned her hangover.
Ten years ago, she was Ke$ha, the new party-monster queen on the block, brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack. She lived up to the dollar sign in her name with the sleaziest funniest, giddiest disco hits on the radio, from “Blow” to “Take It Off” to “We R Who We R.” But then she began a long fight to start over, going silent for five years while accusing her producer Dr. Luke of sexual abuse. She sang out her struggles on her 2017 comeback Rainbow, a sincere statement even if her vocal power wasn’t equal to her lofty aspirations. She had a whole lot of serious to get out of her system.
On High Road, Kesha wants to have it both ways—she sings about her therapist and Tarot readings and her aura, but she’s also back to clubbing with a vengeance. She recently said, “To quote one of my favorite songs of all time, I’ve decided to ‘fight for my right to party!’” “Tonight” begins as an earnest hymn, with Elton John-style piano and 2010-vintage AutoTune. (It sounds a nostalgic trick at this point, like John Lennon using his “Elvis echo” to resemble his Fifties rockabilly heroes.) Then Kesha turns down the piano, cranks up the beatbox and starts to rap: “I don’t give a fuck ‘cause I am so high / Me and all my girls are looking so fly.” Damn, it’s good to have this Kesha back. We missed her, right?
“My Own Dance” sums up where Kesha’s head is at right now when she looks in the mirror and gives herself a pep talk: “I get it that you been through a lot of shit/ But life’s a bitch, so come and shake your tits.” She gets serious in the candid family confessions of “Father Daughter,” where she mourns growing up without a dad, or “Chasing Thunder,” a blessing to the kid she isn’t sure whether she wants to have. But she’s also down for a post-therapy chance to hit the town and dance out of the darkness, whether that means boning in a car (“Kinky Understanding”) or tripping in the desert looking for spaceships (“Shadow”). “Honey” is a little laid-back guitar R&B in the mode of that old-school bluesman John Mayer.
For a longtime Kesha fan, the sentimental fave has to be “Cowboy Blues,” a fantastic acoustic sing-along that fuses the Gaga of Joanne with the Taylor of Speak Now, yet sounds exactly like Kesha. She asks the spiritual question of whether it’s possible to encounter the meaning of life while doing whiskey shots at the dive bar with a hot stranger in a Nudie suit. (Spoiler: this is a Kesha song, so yes.) She fits the biggest question into one gulp of breath: “Do you ever lie in bed with your three cats and get obsessed with some boy you met once three years ago in Nashville and you can’t remember his last name?” On High Road, Kesha has never sounded saner—or crazier.