For proof, one needs to look no further than Ke$h’s new Warrior album , a collection of songs penned by the likes of Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Shellback and Fun. frontman Nate Ruess; produced by Greg Kurstin (whose résumé includes Pink, Kelly Clarkson and the Red Hot Chili Peppers); and thoroughly lacquered in multiple layers of studio varnish. It is, in every conceivable way, the kind of big-budget pop record that dominates the charts these days. And if it were any other artist’s photo on the cover, it might do just that.
Instead, it’s Ke$ha, dressed like Poison Ivy, striking a defiant pose in front of some psychotropic hills. And that image truly speaks volumes, because no matter how hard those around her tried, and despite (one can assume) countless boardroom meetings and focus-group sessions, on Warrior, Ke$h is determined to do things her way. The end result is an album brimming with thoroughly oddball pop, an unapologetic party-starter that pushes all the things folks took issue with on her Animal debut (the bleating robo vocals, the blaring electro beats, the general IDGAF-iness of the lyrics) to the outer limits. Those qualities may hinder its commercial success, though they also make for a genuinely thrilling listen.
And, really, you get the feeling Ke$ha could care less about shifting units or establishing her position in the pop hierarchy. With anyone else in the vocal booth, Warrior would be a lesser album, but under her control, we get songs like the starry, squelching title track; fantastic first single “Die Young” ; and “Crazy Kids,” an amalgamation of gently strummed acoustic guitar and oddball whistling that may very well be the most Ke$ha track of all time (to say nothing of her multiple vocal variations on the phrase “f—“). They are wholly unique additions to the pop spectrum, the kind only she seems capable of creating.
There are, of course, more traditional moments, too, like the dusty ballad “Wonderland” and album-closing “Love Into the Light,” which starts like Radiohead’s “Four Minute Warning” and unfurls over a sensual electronic pulse and crashing drums. It’s on songs like this that Ke$ha lets us in on what she perceives as her dirty little secret — she can actually sing — and, in doing so, she also reveals her hand: Warrior is not supposed to be an album full of sentiment because where’s the fun in that?
Instead, Warrior speeds along on an endless stream of odes to partying, scuzzy boys, crushed cans and late-night debauchery. The beats are blockbuster big, the vocals pitched and shifted within an inch of their lives and the tempo never cools. You want introspection? Heartrending emotion? True substance? Try Adele. The good-time train only gets derailed once, in fact, on “Dirty Love,” a team-up with Iggy Pop that rattles and wails but never really goes anywhere, and perhaps suggests that not all of Ke$ha’s ideas were good ones.
Still, that’s the only misstep, and while Warrior may not win her any new fans, that’s probably not the point. Clearly, Ke$ha possesses the abilities to ape any of her pop contemporaries, but she’s simply not interested in doing so. That may be bad news for the shareholders, but it’s definitely good news for those who worship at her wonderfully weird altar. There’s truly no one else making music like her in 2012, because no one else is crazy — or brilliant — enough to do so. She’s gonna dance and drink all night, and let someone else pick up the tab. At this point, who’s going to stop her?
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