By Mark DiBona
Pop’s beard-loving hipster queen is true to some of her punk influences and takes a little bit of an introspective turn on her newest album, ‘Warrior,’ released Nov. 30.
Ke$ha is a punk rocker. Deal with it.
As pop as Ke$ha is, there is something badass about her “giving a fuck about not giving a fuck” attitude. The frail, scratchy voice behind the autotune (on full display on her cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”) screams punk. She doesn’t sound like The Sex Pistols. She doesn’t sound like Black Flag or like Sonic Youth. But they’re all punk rockers.
Her influences: The Velvet Underground, The Damned, and Dinosuar Jr. You don’t see T-Swift name-checking any of those. (And Ke$ha did talk about Mick Jagger before Maroon 5 did). Her influences are much more in focus on her latest album, Warrior, which was originally titled Spandexxx On the Distant Horizon.
It is not the lo-fi country punk masterpiece some were expecting after hearing her favorite album is Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline. Nor is it the indie-channeling album people were expecting after hearing she made collaborations with Sia, The Flaming Lips, and Calvin Harris. What Warrior, released Nov. 30, is, though, is an album that pushes Ke$ha to new heights with real edge.
You’ve either been dancing, driving, or working out to “Die Young” for about a month now and it’s a good representative of the album on the whole. Co-written by fun.’s lead singer Nate Ruess, the song features a combination of indie-pop guitars and bombastic dance-pop beats. The lyrics at first appear to deal with usual Ke$ha territory, forgoing concern for partying. But there is something new there. An acceptance of “dying young,” if it means you can have one last great hookup. This has been an eternal discussion in the punk movement ever sense Sid Vicious told Johnny Rotten he wanted to be dead by 27, all the way up to Kurt Cobain quoting Neil Young in his suicide note: “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
The opening track is a vital representation of the album, which is in whole a take-two on an “acceptance” anthem. “We R Who We R” was an addition to the meaningless hypocritical “you’re great no matter what” songs every female pop singer seems to feel an impulse to create. In “Warrior,” instead of marginalizing the differences of the outsiders, it celebrates them. The “misfits” described in the song are borderline terrifying; their goal is to “cut bullshit with a dagger.” Ke$ha’s no longer saying “accept us because we’re actually just like you,” she is now saying: “We are different. If you don’t like it, fuck you. We don’t care.” It’s a much more liberating and honest statement. It also could be taken for an indie track, a synth-pop jam straight from Neon Gold Records. Ke$ha also successfully combines indie leanings with club bass beats on “Crazy Kids.” Its whistling and acoustic guitar strums call to mind Edward Sharpe, even when they’re behind party-‘til-you-die lyrics.
The album is not all darkness. Ke$ha takes a much more loving stance on the ridiculously catchy single “C’Mon,” which is almost as catchy and optimistic as “Thinking of You” and “Wherever You Are,” even though the latter gets really old really quickly. “Thinking of You” references one of Ke$ha’s former relationships, something rarely seen in her work. The bonus tracks, “Past Lives,” and “Do You Realize??” (a sound collaboration with The Flaming Lips — Ke$ha previously joined forces with them on their track “2012”), speak of true love persisting through reincarnation. “Past Lives,” an album high note, insists Ke$ha’s stance to die young will allow her to enjoy herself in this life as well as the next.
A few tracks do fall flat. Her much hyped collaboration with Iggy Pop, “Dirty Love,” is, unfortunately, one of these. Though Iggy Pop previously collaborated with Ida Maria and Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast with superb results, his work on this track is undeniably phony. Ke$ha announces “It’s Iggy Pop!” forcing the counterfeit feel. She seems much more authentically “Iggy Pop” on the glam rock bonus track “Gold Trans Am.” Similarly, “Supernatural” is an uninspired dubstep track about Ke$ha’s sexual experiences with a ghost (seriously). Ke$ha also tries her hand at country on “Wonderland,” which descends into repetitive reminiscing that gives superfluous support to the main ideas of the album.
But more often than not, the album soars. She collaborates brilliantly with Julian Casablancas and Fab Moretti of the Strokes on “Only Wanna Dance With You”. It is a classic power pop track that seems to fall together perfectly. Does its Strokes reference border on rip-off? Maybe, but it’s good.
“Love Into the Light” concludes the album with brilliantly. Co-written by The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, it brilliantly samples Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” Throughout the song, Ke$ha expresses an unusual emotion for her: doubt. Maybe all this seamless partying is bad? Maybe burning out will only result in ashes? Is her entire image, her entire being, completely and utterly wrong? When she says “sorry, but I’m just not sorry ‘cause I swear and ‘cause I drink,” it sounds like she’s lying. Ultimately she decides to “love into the light” but with an ending that sounds like a car crash, has she made the wrong decision?
The album is littered with heavy thoughts, something unseen on the usual pop album. Ke$ha can be introspective — who knew? Although it’s not the perfect music-redefining masterpiece it once appeared to be, the album ends up both catchy and interesting. Ke$ha has propelled herself far above her pop diva peers, possibly leading the way for a new generation of “introspective” pop.