Don’t be surprised if Kesha needed “Rainbow,” her first album since 2012’s “Warrior,” as much as the queer kids questioning their place in this mad, queer-resistant world do. Her comeback album’s soaring first single, “Praying,” finds light at the end of the long, turbulent tunnel the resilient pop star occupied for too long before reaching a point – beyond her much-publicized legal battles with producer Dr. Luke, beyond her booze-heavy factory pop – where she could finally say, “The best is yet to come.” As the thrashing ballad whips into something even more transcendent than that Mariah-high whistle note she hits during the track, unleashing the second coming of Kesha, that’s no exaggeration – Kesha, of “Tik Tok” and general party-girl fame, has never been this raw, or as candidly captivating. Marked by hard-won perspective and a fresh outlook on life (and death, per the charmingly weird send-off “Spaceship”), Kesha’s artistic rebirth manages to offer an openhearted hug to anyone who, like her, has ever felt different. “Hymn,” an individuality-championing chant, and the understated title track, with its reference to our iconic LGBT symbol, are both songs I wish I could have leaned on as a young, struggling gay teen. “Come and paint the world with me tonight,” she summons, over a Ben Folds-produced track that bursts into a warm orchestral swoop. For once, maybe, Kesha is showing her true colors on “Rainbow,” and that realness extends into the rock- and roots-inspired music. Sometimes she fashions a simple coffeehouse-guitar approach (set opener “Bastards” and “Godzilla,” a zany little acceptance-centric ditty using the infamous monster as a metaphor for her misunderstood boyfriend), and on “Hunt You Down,” she tips her hat to Johnny Cash’s rockabilly sound, adding her own killer feminist twist. She sticks it to the man again on “Woman,” a scorching kiss-off featuring The Dap-Kings Horns and enough girl power to put this current “only white men matter” administration into a cold sweat. Elsewhere, Eagles of Death Metal spice up two rollicking tracks, including the “Shake It Off”-esque “Let ’em Talk,” while the Rainbow Queen herself, Dolly Parton, cameos because get this: Kesha’s mom, country-music scribe Pebe Sebert, wrote “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You),” which Dolly covered in 1980. In many ways, having grown up on the Nashville greats, this is Kesha returning to her homegrown, pre-pop-star roots. Because sometimes you have to look behind in order to move forward, she admits, “I’ve been through hell and back,” on “Learn to Let Go,” pointing to the “boogeyman under my bed.” But Kesha has returned to the driver’s seat, making the best music of her career, and we’re all in for the empowering, starry-eyed spaceship ride. Grade: A-
Read a open letter from Kesha to the LGBTQ community here.
Lana Del Rey, ‘Lust for Life’
There’s a world on fire and not even a contact buzz from Lana Del Rey’s pass-the-blunt Never, Never Land will help us pretend we’re OK. Momentary respite, though, lingers in every mindful corner of “Lust for Life,” where indie-pop’s wooziest wet dream finds herself in a contradictory place, one the album cover takes into consideration. On it, Del Rey is not solemn, not even seductive. She’s got a damn smile on her Barbie face and flowers in her hair – irony at its best. As gunshots pop throughout her cooey ode to unity, “God Bless America – and All the Beautiful Women,” she addresses Trumpland’s chauvinism with a wink, a wicked sense of humor and the feeling that late-night binging “The Handmaid’s Tale” really got to her. “Is it the end of America?” she wonders, putting aside her own summertime sadness for something bigger than herself: the present-day paranoia and uncertainty of… living. Retro and lullaby-like, its sound mostly mirrors Del Rey’s past work on 2014’s “Ultraviolence” and its follow-up from a year later, “Honeymoon.” But, working against type, she’s hopeful. “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems” aptly enlists Stevie Nicks, the two advising that “we gotta try,” while her moving, impossible-not-to-cry-during piano solo, “Change,” looks ahead with aberrant optimism. She empathically prays for “the third time” for the youth, has an entire song called “When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing,” and, during “13 Beaches,” finally finds repose. Del Rey’s cinematic “Lust for Life” doesn’t need a visual component – we are on that beach, we are dancing, and we are living and we are lusting for her every reassuring word. Grade: B