It’s not easy to wrap one’s head around Ke$ha, the person. Is she truly the rebel she paints herself to be? Or is she just putting on an act? Where Lady Gaga has succeeded in convincing people that she really is a freak — albeit in a good way — people still have their doubts when it comes to Ke$ha. And that’s largely her own fault. Sometimes she tells stories that are difficult to believe. Like the one about how she snuck into Prince’s house. Funny how the only person who can confirm that happens to be one of the world’s most elusive pop stars. So, maybe that’s a tall tale or maybe it isn’t. I wonder. And that’s the whole point — she gets you thinking. Asking yourself if she’s for real is precisely what she wants you to do. Unfortunately, there are times when it’s obvious that she’s faking it. For proof of this see the video for her recent single “Die Young,” which is full of Satanic and Illuminati imagery. You’re nuts if you believe that Ke$ha is in league with the Satanists or Illuminati for a second. If she would have just hinted at either of those in the way that Lady Gaga did in her “Bad Romance” video then people might have wondered. But it was so over-the-top that it was impossible to believe. Then again, many of her listeners are quite young and they might be naive enough to believe it. But to most people it just looked like she was trying too hard, just begging to be controversial, only she did it to such a point that most people just yawned. Fortunately, people actually liked the song, and it was starting to do quite well on radio, but then that horrible school shooting occurred and nobody wanted to hear a song about dying young anymore. In an instant, every radio station in the States pulled the song from their rotation. For once Ke$ha found herself controversial for something she’d never intended to be. Her reaction? She tweeted that she wasn’t comfortable with those lyrics and that she was forced to sing them. But nobody really believed that. She’d succeeded in painting herself as enough of a rebel that you just couldn’t picture her singing lyrics she didn’t approve of. Realizing that people weren’t buying it, that instead they were finding her lie to be in very poor taste, she quickly took it back, essentially admitting that she was lying. Shame, shame.
So, when you strip away all of the glitter, pentagrams and controversy, just how is her new album, Warrior? Quite good, actually. The 16 track deluxe edition in particular is well-worth owning, some of the bonus tracks being better than what’s on the standard edition. There are a few duds in there, of course, but there was just as much filler on the deluxe edition of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. There simply aren’t many artists who can release 16 grade A tracks. There’s always going to be a little filler when you include that many songs.
One of Warrior’s best songs is the propulsive and anthemic title track, which kicks off the album with a thick, throbbing beat you’ll immediately fall in lust with if you were a fan of “Blow” from her Cannibal mini-album. “Now this is our time, our generation, and we’re impatient,” Ke$ha sings before launching into one of her trademark hip-hop outbursts. “Out with the dagger,” she proclaims. Instead of growing more complicated as it progresses, the track strips away some of the bass in favor of some old school Casio noodling. While not quite a daring choice, it’s an interesting one that makes you curious to hear what she’ll do next. Which happens to be the aforementioned “Die Young,” a song that starts off with Ke$ha singing for nearly a minute before going hip-hop on us. “Let’s make the most of the night like we’re gonna die young,” she sings, those simple words that nobody hasn’t wanted to hear since the shooting. But, c’mon, she’s not talking about little kids. She’s simply expressing the whole “live fast, die young” mantra that every generation has claimed as their own since the days of James Dean, perhaps even before that. I’m not saying we should put the song back on the radio, but there’s no reason why her fans shouldn’t be able to enjoy it in the privacy of their own homes (or headphones).
Another highlight is “Only Wanna Dance With You,” which has an ’80’s pop vibe with a cheerleader-worthy beat that would make Tony Basil blush. The rocking “Dirty Love” featuring Iggy Pop is also worth a listen, Ke$ha going full on punk with good results. “All I need is to get in between your jeans,” she demands. “Cockroaches do it in garbage cans, carpet merchants do it in Afghanistan,” Pop proclaims half-jokingly. It’s far from being one of the best things he’s ever done, but it’s certainly one of Ke$ha’s strongest cuts to date.
The lesser songs on hand are mostly ballads. On “Thinking Of You,” she does her best to deliver her own take on David Guetta and Usher’s “Without You” and the result feels like a pale imitation of a song we’ve already heard too many times before. (She should have sold the song to Taio Cruz.) On the country-esque “Wonderland,” she seems to fancy herself Taylor Swift, but this is no “Back To December” or “I Almost Do.” She finally pulls off a decent ballad with the album’s final bonus track, “Past Lives,” which is arguably the most trippy thing she’s done thus far. -Michael McCarthy