wed 19/06/2024

Album: Kesha - Gag Order | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Kesha - Gag Order

Album: Kesha - Gag Order

Kesha and Rick Rubin head out into the unknown

Blurred and battered but not broken

Kesha is one of the 21st century’s most characterful pop stars. She’s regularly stepped out of the boxes people have put her in, musically and otherwise.

But, even taking into account truly oddball songs such as “Godzilla” (from 2017’s Rainbow), or projects such as working with Flaming Lips, Gag Order, created with cosmic ultra-producer Rick Rubin, is by far her most out-there work. It’s also the sound of a tormented human being.

On her first two albums Kesha personified young American women raucously embracing hedonism, breaking out of the cultural straitjackets that had head-melted Britney, also creating “Tik Tok”, one of the great pop songs. But she then descended into a hell, legally taking on her label boss Dr Luke, who she accused of sexual assault and worse, in a series of cases that are ongoing, and the results of which have proved contentious. Since then, she’s been a conflicted figure, her next two albums balancing her party pop persona with something darker, hurt and raging. The latter reaches an apex on the aptly titled Gag Order, wherein demons are expelled.

The two startlingly striking aspects are the lyrics and the bizarre sound-beds over which Kesha sings. It is, in the word’s true sense, a psychedelic album. Anyone in doubt, need only check the Peruvian piped weirdness of “Only Love (Reprise)”, which ends with an echoing child’s voice stating, “I wish I could talk in Technicolor”. Or how about the interlude looping post-LSD guru Ram Dass? All is smeared in gloopy electronic textures, flowing, warping, ranging from the squiggly, clonking emptiness of “Fine Line” to the Oneohtrix Point Never-style, pared-back hyperpop of “Peace & Quiet”. And that’s without even touching on the cracked harmonium chant of “Eat the Acid”.

The lyrics, though, are disturbing. This is a woman raw with frustration and pain. “I don’t wanna be here anymore/Stuck inside my head,” she sings at one point, while the doom-synth electro of “The Drama” admits, “I crawl in bed, close my eyes/But I never can sleep/There’s a violence in the silence/And it’s coming for me”. These are not one-off statements. This tone is all over it, with very occasional salvation, such as on the gorgeous slowie “All I Need is You”, or the middle-finger-up blow-out of gospel-tastic banger “Only Love Can Save Us Now”.

Gag Order is not an immediate album like her others. Well, it is immediately fascinating, but took me three listens to get under the hood of it, fully discovering the songs within the strangeness. Whether the listener enjoys it or not, there’s no denying it’s an impressive step forward into the unknown for an artist who, from the sound of it, urgently needed to make it.

Below: Watch the video for "Eat the Acid" by Kesha

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