Ke$ha’s ‘Warrior’: Album Review

Dec 4th, 2012 // 16 Comments
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A thousand years from now, when cyborg historians are scanning ancient computers for data on the early 21st century, hopefully they download the 16 glorious files that make up Warrior (out today, December 4). It would probably blow their circuitry and start a revolution, because Ke$ha’s bar-raising sophomore album taps into the zeitgeist better than any other record released in 2012. It’s the raw, funny and irreverent soundtrack to a generation of low carb beer-guzzling dreamers, set to occasionally crass, but always catchy, pop music.

In her recent autobiography, the Nashville native writes about the intense pressure of following up her massively successful debut album. Many critics were already treating K$ like she had an expiry date stamped on her face. After all, she was the party girl famous for sing-talking her way through heavily-Autotuned club-bangers about sexting and vomiting in closets. It didn’t exactly spell career longevity.

So what did Lady Dolla do? She lifted her game and invented her own genre — a heady mix of ’70s rock, cutting-edge electronica and drowsy rapping known as cock-pop. It was an audacious plan, but Ke$ha makes the transformation from electro-pop diva to intergalactic wild child with jaw-dropping ease. Warrior is a non-stop aural assault of fresh ideas and new sounds that document the singer’s journey from being L.A.’s self-confessed worst waitress to chart-conquering pop titan.

And yet, for such a devastatingly original piece of work, the first two singles have been conspicuously conventional — at least on the surface. While “Die Young” and “C’Mon” don’t reflect the wild ride you’re about to take, they quietly and cleverly subvert the electro-pop genre. Lead single “Die Young” seems to pick up where Animal left off. Lyrically, the Nate Ruess-co-penned pop anthem covers familiar territory, though the snare drums hint at a move towards a more organic sound, and the production has a fuzzy indie-pop bent that is fully explored later.

“C’Mon” could also be described as a safe choice until you pay attention to the words. The scene Ke$ha sets, lyrically, wouldn’t be out of place in a John Waters movie. “I’m in a crop top like I’m working at Hooters,” quips the renowned wordsmith while Dr. Luke’s hazy synths explode like warm beer from a dropped can of Bud. By the time that monumental chorus arrives, you’re so lost in K$’s body-paint-stained world that you hardly notice “C’Mon” was ruthlessly engineered for radio domination.

In her Dostoevsky-eclipsing literary debut, Ke$ha confesses that Dr. Luke was concerned radio wouldn’t accept her new sound. As such, the first two singles act as a bridge to previously unexplored terrain. The super-producer deserves an enormous amount of credit for helping his muse create a psychedelic universe that is boldly experimental yet undeniably commercial. It’s a dizzying tightrope walk that completely reinvents the blond, beard-loving poet.

K$ has always behaved like a rock star. Now she has the sound to go with it. “Thinking Of You” is a raised middle finger of a song that eases the listener into Rock$ha. There’s an unmistakeable pop element — think of it as a futuristic take on Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi” — but the pied piper of party animals drags her ex with fury of a woman scorned. “I was down for you hardcore before I heard you were out trying to score,” she berates her former flame before adding “found out you’re full of it, I’m over it, so suck my dick!” Well, then.

The transformation continues on the surf-rock-flavored “Only Wanna Dance With You.” The first Max Martin co-production is an absolute highlight. The melody is reminiscent of Pink’s “Don’t Let Me Get Me.” However, the retro-tinged chorus belongs to a different era entirely. This is a toe-tapping triumph that screams future single.

“Dirty Love,” Ke$ha’s much-hyped duet with punk legend Iggy Pop is similarly brilliant. A wave of crunching guitars and snappy drumbeats underpin line after line of lyrical brilliance. Here she calibrates her words with the simplicity and honesty of Charles Bukowski and revels in the seedy side of life, writing about roach sex and piss-tasting champagne with the same passion and enthusiasm as she does first love and loving relationships.

Speaking of noteworthy lyrics, the hitmaker begins “Gold Trans Am” by growling, “Pull over, sucker, and now spread ‘em, let me see what you’re packin’ inside that denim!” It turns out to be the album’s standout track. This is a brilliantly constructed and conceived ode to southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd. Hands-in-the-air, arena anthems don’t come much better. If any one song captures the essence of cock-pop, then this is it.

After revitalizing rock music, the warrior princess tries her hand at rap. “Crazy Kids” could well be the album’s trippiest experiment. The eerie whistled intro hints at a retro experience, but then the atomic beats drop and K$ unleashes her flow. It’s an oddly moving excursion into the unknown with a wistful chorus that sits uncomfortably — yet perfectly — with the rapped verses.

“Supernatural” is a similarly twisted offering. Did you know that Ke$ha was once penetrated by a ghost? She celebrates the unusual sexual experience with some of the hardest beats found on a mainstream pop album this year. The electronic breakdowns are an out-of-body experience and the unexpected splash of piano ties the track to the rest of the album. The end result is creepy and vaguely reminiscent of the X-Files theme song.

It’s not all balls-out rock or club-shaking dance anthems. Some of the highlights show the 25-year-old’s softer side. “Wonderland” is our first taste of down-tempo K$, and it’s an intoxicating brew. She sings about her pre-fame days with affection and a note of melancholy. The beautiful piano ballad proves the glitter bug is just as adept at quiet reflection as she is at club carnage.

“Last Goodbye” is perhaps the most emotional song on Warrior. It would be nice to hear this on radio at some stage, because it showcases a tenderness that non-believers would struggle computing. The “woahs” and “la la las” are the prettiest hooks ever to grace a Ke$ha song, while the lyrics are unexpectedly gorgeous. “Now you’ve got a girl, someone new, and I can’t pretend to just be cool,” muses the ever-insightful songstress. The production is equally complex: the whistles and claps give the song a folk element and we’re pretty sure we hear a banjo in there somewhere. This is probably the only Ke$ha song you will ever be able to riverdance to!

Warrior is the most fully-realized and cohesive pop album since Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream or Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster. The difference is that this musical journey feels more authentic. Unlike those fabulous divas, Ke$ha isn’t playing a character or channeling an alter-ego. This is her demented diary set to music.

The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: Too many to mention. “Supernatural,” “Only Wanna Dance With You,” “Last Goodbye,” “Dirty Love” and “Thinking Of You” spring to mind.

Pops like: An episode of The Flintstones on acid.

Best Listened To: As often as possible.

Idolator Rating: 4/5

Mike Wass

idolator

  1. The album is really, really good. I thought “Animal” and “Cannibal” were good but here she sounds a bit more focused and many of the songs and the lyrics show the vulnerable side to her like on “The Harold Song.”
    The standout tracks are “Thinking of You” “Crazy Kids,” “Wonderland,” “Wherever You Are,” “Love into The Light,” “Past Lives,” “Gold Trans Am” “Last Goodbye” and of course “Die Young” and “C’Mon.”

  2. j.

    Is this review supposed to be sarcastic?

    • ruben

      thank you… hahah that went through my mind too.. i mean i like the album but this review did seem sarcastic at moments…

      • Yeah, it does kinda sound sarcastic at points, but then the author did give it 4/5 rating. So in the end, if the intent is to say it’s horrible by saying it’s great… he’s skewing ratings toward good. That would be kinda dumb.

  3. Mike

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  4. Bradsuxx

    ALBUM OF THE YEAR!!!!!!

  5. Mike Wass

    There’s no sarcasm here. I’ve heard A LOT of music this year and Warrior is by far the most innovative, witty and brave pop album of 2012 – at least in my humble opinion!

  6. Guinn

    Mike the commenter (not referring to the reviewer Mike Wass here) couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve been listening to music since the early 80′s. Kesha is one of the most interesting artists in my lifetime. Innovators often aren’t appreciated in their time and she’s an example of that. Far from lowering the bar, she’s actually raising it at a time when pop music has become bland and cookie cutter.

    She could have become another Kelly Clarkson or Katy Perry. She could have continued recording the kinds of bubble gum pop she recorded in her teens (mostly unreleased and all over Youtube) and been successful doing it. Instead she pulled together diverse influences and created her own unique style. It was risky to do something new but it paid off. Add to that, she has a strong feminist message in both her songs and image.

    With Warrior, she again went a different direction and successfully mixed rock and country with electro and pop, yet the narrowminded critics still don’t get it. They can’t get past brushing teeth with a bottle of Jack and see that there’s a very interesting and innovative artist in their midst. But musical historians will appreciate her someday.

  7. Rod

    I LOVE this album as well! I hate tha Kesha is known as that Tik Tok girl who does not actually have any talent because it’s so far from the truth. After listening to both “Animal” and “Cannibal”, the albums as a whole are a lot better than the singles they choose to put out. In my humble opinion, ‘Crazy Kids’ or ‘C’mon’ should have been the lead single. I say ‘Cray Kids’ because lke you said, it is one of the more experimental songs on the album and it reminds me o ‘Sleazy’ from “Cannibal”. The rapping is pretty tight here and the chorus on ‘Kids’ is awesome. I will have to disagree about the more rock influenced tracks, ‘Thinking of You’ being the exception. They actually feel out of place, and the collaboration with Iggy Pop is easily the most annoying song on the album. Best songs IMO are: C’mon, Thinking of You, Crazy Kids, Wonderland, Only Wanna Dance with You, Supernatural and Love into the Light.

    Also check out her stripped down EP “Deconstructed”, it features five songs that aren’t exactly acoustic, but they are nowhere near as heavily produced as the tracks on the actual album. The version of Supernatural and Blow found here are particulartly great.

  8. Alex

    So many killer pop tracks off this album. Great start on the music videos for the album with Die Young! http://bit.ly/RYZ4VW

  9. Saif

    This album is awesome..,than cannibal and animal..songs of warrior are pretty rude but its exactly what ke$ha is..

  10. I wanted so easily to write off Kesha for years as just another pop tart, but looking into her background (when she wanted to be a serious artist.) I feel she is a lot smarter then we give her credit for. Her lyrics are so ridiculous that you have to feel “she can’t be serious!” and I honestly think she is in on this big joke that we haven’t figured out yet. She seems to be an actual artist playing the role of a pop star parody. When you see her in a interview she is the polar opposite of this role, so it’s interesting to watch her play this stereotype. She know’s she’s ridiculous and that is what makes her awesome in my opinion. She is making fun of the party scene, stupid girls and all the other materialistic crap that doesn’t matter. She is doing what lady gaga should have stayed with. She knows the irony and she plays that stuff all the way to the bank.I feel Kesha is the most underrated pop star we have right now.
    By the way before you write me off, I would like to say that I listen to music from all sides of the spectrum. I love rock,indie, bluegrass,big band,gospel,motown,alternative,etc. But there is nothing wrong with liking a little dance music from time to time. Not everything has to be serious. I feel Kesha gets that, and that is what makes her albums great.

  11. jj

    you can obviously tell all the research that this person did before voicing his/her opinion. they didnt even know which album this was for ke$ha. they never even mentioned Cannibal.

  12. Babe

    “devastatingly original piece of work”

    This was so obviously written by a Ke$ha stan.

  13. AA

    I prefer Warrior to Cannibal but its really a mish mash of songs that are in fact not cohesive and try to accomplish different things for her and in the end accomplish very little. There are some catchy songs on here, one or two of her best. But nothing matches the unabashed fun nature of her debut or its equally cohesive EP. Warrior is a step in the right direction but I felt as though it was completely split between the devastatingly unoriginal filler that most likely her label demanded be included (All That Matters, Out Alive, Wonderland, C’Mon, Crazy Kids, Die Young) and then the tracks that hint at the type of album K$ actually wanted to make (Love Into the Light, Past Lives, Only Wanna Dance With You, Gold Trans Am). I think if her label were to have allowed her more creative reign we would’ve gotten a much more cohesive album that made sense to her and to the listener. It could’ve had its duds im sure if Dirty Love (K$’s admitted favorite track) is anything to go by because its so unironically awful, but it would’ve been something she would’ve had pride in releasing. This whole era its never seemed like K$ was truly proud of this record, she just seems sort of half hearted.

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