Kesha’s latest album High Road is, simply put, medicine for your soul. It is possibly the antidote to the hate-poison that seems to be filtering through the air constantly. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, it’s exploding with charm, it’s intimately vulnerable, and it’s endlessly relatable. This is the album that Apple should drop into everyone’s phone, demanding that they listen to it and succumb to the joy.
After Kesha’s last album, Rainbow, in 2017, the world got to know a different side of the artist. Beyond the cheeky, Jack-swilling party girl of “Tik Tok” fame, Kesha was now considered to be an artist with a specific voice, perspective, and pipes to spare. Rainbow was a breakthrough for the musician, but with High Road, you get the sense that Rainbow was a necessary transitional album. With this new release, we get a potent combination of the belter we heard on the previous album, with the party girl with no regrets that we heard when Kesha first broke through. That unabashed embrace of her “old” persona illustrates perfectly the sense of freedom, self-acceptance, and disregard for the haters that permeates High Road.
High Road could be compared to an album like Melodrama, as it loosely tracks an emotional journey focused around going out, partying, “raising hell,” and hooking up. The album is bookended by two excellent songs, “Tonight” and “Summer,” which celebrate “one of those nights,” that feel like they could be the “best night of your life.” The first, “Tonight,” opens up with a beautiful, anthemic intro that invokes Rainbow; before a refrain of “bitch, we’re going out tonight,” kicks in and brings the party with it.
Following that, a few high-energy jams carry the mood along with impressive energy. “My Own Dance” is Kesha’s take on the “dance to your own beat” metaphor, with enjoyable kooky lyrics like “don’t circumcise my circumstance.” “Raising Hell” uses Big Freedia as one should, supporting the right to raise some hell before you go to Heaven. “High Road” uses a campy cheer rhythm alongside its instantly catchy chorus. Throughout High Road, Kesha maintains an exciting unpredictability as every song wanders into various genres, hooks, and vocal deliveries.
There’s also enjoyment in relishing Kesha’s varying moods throughout the album. What makes these songs so relatable is that these chaotic expressions come from one person. We’ve all had nights where we feel like partying, and we’ve all had times where we are better suited for sitting with our pets and worrying about whether we messed our life up. It is also supremely delightful to hear a song like “Shadow,” in which Kesha declares that “I will love you even though you hate me,” followed by “Honey,” which is a deviously petty takedown of a friend who broke the girl code.
Even when Kesha wanders into non-party territory, she never gets stale. “Cowboy Blues” and “Resentment” are an excellent double feature, with the former feeling ripped out of a diary entry, and the latter a country ballad with Sturgill Simpson. If country radio had any flexibility at all, “Resentment” would earn plenty of airplay.
Following the country feature is the “let’s have sex” trio complete with the song about the singer’s intent to get a “Little Bit of Love” tonight, followed by “Birthday Suit” and “Kinky,” which you can figure out for yourself. The last third of the album is a bit of a hodgepodge, with Kesha using the space to sing about any other personal thought she has. “The Potato Song” is what Kesha Carnival would sound like, as she sings about a dream life where you can escape from “adulting” and do whatever silly thing you want. “BFF,” featuring Wrabel, is a very specific ode to a best friend. It’s so specific that it becomes universal; you can’t help but listen to the song and think of your own best friends. “Father Daughter Dance” is vulnerable and honest, without becoming self-pitying. Throughout the album, there isn’t a whiff of self-pity, or shame, or embarrassment; it’s partly what makes the listen so refreshing and fun. The only time High Road almost stumbles is with “Chasing Thunder,” which isn’t a bad song but merely feels a bit redundant by the time we come to it at the end.
With High Road, Kesha is giving us a chance to party with her for a night, and to talk about silly dreams and feelings we have, along with some not-so-silly feelings. With the somewhat scrappy production, the total effect is that of an album made on-the-fly over a long night with a crew of friends nearby. The drop-ins from multiple voices, including Wrabel, Big Freedia, Tayla Parx, and Kesha’s mom, help to support that feeling. Of course, as you continue to listen to the album, again and again, you realize that a lot of thought went into each track; it’s the infectious joy of High Road that hides that labor from us.