Ke$ha, ‘Warrior’ (RCA)
Release Date: December 4, 2012
Forget the Mayan calendar: Ke$ha Rose Sebert more likely picked up her last-days fetish while growing up on her songwriter mom’s food stamps among dispensationalist millenarian suburban classmates who hated her purple hair back in the turn-of-millennium Bible Belt Kentucky. But wherever it came from, she’s made doomsday preppin’ her dancefloor mission like nobody since Prince partied like 1999 in 1982: She co-wrote “Till The World Ends” for Britney; cruised up Mulholland to the Hollywood sign just to drunkenly watch the world explode in mid-2011’s “Shots On The Hood Of My Car.” And now on her new album (her second or third or even fourth, depending whether nine-song “EP”s or questionably legit self-titled rarity-samplers count), she’s making the most of the night and the magic in your pants before she dies young (and stays pretty, per Blondie) in a too-Katy-Perry-drag-queeny hit single, and running out of anti-freeze in the way more apocalyptically stark Deluxe Edition bonus cut “Out Alive.”
As in “No one gets…,” that is — shades of a famous Jim Morrison biography. Which is to say: $he’s not alone! Whoopee, we’re all gonna die! For all her nihilism, Ke$ha comes off quite the team playee — works well in groups, or at least wants to foster a disco-to-Gaga sense of Island of Misfits Toys community. “We R Who We R,” her chart-topping backlash-at-bullies statement proclaimed two years ago, and on Warrior (as in letting-your-inner-one-out, same self-actualization advice as Animal and Cannibal), she’s editorial-“we”-ing all over the place: “We were born to break the doors down” in the Benatar-esque title cheer; “We are the crazy people” in the whistly-shiny “Crazy Kids”; “We were the wild ones” in the persuasively sad “Wonderland” (see: Alice), which remembers old living-off-nickels-and-dimes partners-in-crime turned valley moms and waitresses, quite throat-lumpingly thanks to Southern power-ballad guitars and Ke$ha yearning to do a drive-by but being unable to locate the road.
Thing is, “we’re-all-in-this-together” is not a particularly punk-rock concept, at least in the world’s-forgotten-boy sense originally conceived by Iggy Pop, who in 1986 made a blah album called Blah Blah Blah (see: Animal‘s jarring and lucrative 3OH!3 collaboration), and who calls Ms. Sebert a “wild child” (a few cuts after she calls herself the same) in Warrior‘s “Dirty Love” — which is, well, even more diverting than her adequately new-wavish duet on an Alice Cooper album last year. Obvious blueprint would be Iggy’s only actual top 40 single, the 1990 Kate Pierson-of-B-52’s pairing “Candy,” except this time he’s got a verse updating Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It” to accommodate cockroaches, Afghanistan rug merchants, and Rick Santorum, and Ke$ha’s moving from husky frat-soul growl to hillbilly drawl above a jock-glam bleacher beat.
Much has been made of Warrior‘s allegedly more “rock” and “experimental” bent and replacement of AutoTune and Eurobeats with no-artificial-additive singing and guitaring, but stirrings in that direction are fairly negligible (and, according to a Simon Reynolds New York Times feature late last month, were apparently re-considered along the way.) The momentarily biting you’re-gonna-hear-me-on-your-radio (see: Toby Keith, Joe Jackson, etc.) breakup-revenge threat “Thinking Of You” opens with a smidgen of downer-metal sludge that’s gone long before Ke$ha introduces a “gold Trans-Am” which, ten songs later on the Deluxe Edition, also provides the title for Warrior‘s most raucous number, wherein she joneses for a fu-manchu ride from a mulleted dude in a Skynyrd shirt over “Back In Black” riffs and “We Will Rock You” stomping — neither of which, incidentally, would be unheard of on CMT lately, though the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am here is more reminiscent of mid-’90s bazooka-rappers Shampoo or Gillette.
Gold Trans Am” is easily Ke$ha’s funniest new song (not to mention sexier than the ones where first kisses make her body electric or the snoozy one supposedly about seduction by ghosts): “Burnin’ rubber on the Southern highway / Gonna take you on a freedom ride,” plus sleazy stuff about her Daisy Dukes and his wunderpants. But in general, compared to Animal, Warrior is curiously deficient in punch lines. The goofy second single “C’Mon,” for instance, cutely rhymes “saber-tooth tiger,” “keepin’ it kosher,” and “warm Budweiser” (one of many alcoholic references on an album that also drinks in warm wine coolers, whiskey, red wine outside the 7-11, and champagne that tastes like piss), but Ke$ha somehow manages to pack her toothbrush (necessary since she’s pulling an all-nighter) without explaining which beverage she plans to brush with! After her Jack Daniel’s dental care in “Tik Tok,” that’s quite the missed opportunity. She’s not putting out cigars in caviar or urinating in the Dom Pérignon or telling dirty old dinosaurs they need CAT Scans anymore. Not to mention puking in rich guys’ closets, or dissing their brand-new Benzes and bourgie friends — Warrior could use more class warrior.
Then again, being a brat who searches and destroys admittedly isn’t the wisest long-term creative strategy. Ke$ha’s role models the Beastie Boys had given up brass-monkeyed mutiny of the bounty (and AC/DC riffs) by the time their very arty second album rolled around, but they never again came up with personas as entertaining as the ones they started with. Turn-of-the-’70s Detroit vandals Alice and Iggy were hacks with decent golf handicaps by the early ’80s. White punks on Hollywood dope the Tubes stayed weird even after selling out, and teengenerates the Dictators — who got even more mileage out of throwing up on their debut LP in 1975 than Ke$ha would on hers — stayed class clowns even as they mastered heavier chords, but who noticed?
Still, with help from Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and other song-doctors, Ke$ha does what she can — stretches “warrior” to 13 syllables; makes like a yodel robot just to get on your nerves again; mixes a few buzzy dubstep breaks and sizzurped crunk cadences into the strobelight bosh; slips in subliminal echoes of ’80s MTV classics by Cyndi Lauper and/or Eddy Grant and/or Dexy’s Midnight Runners and/or Taco; ends the album proper with an unbearably sincere Pink-style nose-holder where she brags about swearing and drinking in the dullest way possible before recommending we all get over ourselves; ends the Deluxe Edition with an enigmatic item about surviving the Ice Age and building pyramids while Wayne Coyne mumbles in the background; voice-crackingly covers a 1980 Dolly Parton hit her mom wrote on a fan-club-only, all-acoustic companion EP called Deconstructed, apparently just to prove to stupid scolds that she can “really sing.”
Too much too little too late: Warrior is likable enough, but not only can’t it match its predecessor, it’s not nearly as exhilarating or disruptive as what fellow slizzered California trashdancer Dev or assorted K-poppers have done in the past two years with basically the same raw materials. So, kinda disappointing, sure — but hardly the end of the world.