Kesha's latest album is "Warrior." (Yu Tsai, RCA Records )
Revert, if you will, to your 14-year-old female self. If you're a guy, dig deep into your imagination until your brain is a blank slate and you can understand the rush of crushing on One Direction. Your parents are fighting, your brother's a dork, the popular girls at school roll their eyes at you, the curriculum is a drag. You're ready to bust loose and get out into the world, shed the drama and expectations, live life and have some fun. But you're trapped in your bedroom for four more years.
Enter Kesha, who on her second album, "Warrior," has perfected the art of aspirational rebellion and released a joyous celebration of defiance. By stomping just at the edge of parental propriety and sneaking in (mostly) well-crafted lyrics, her new record confirms her place as the loosest of the dance divas, one who not only preaches on the art of the party like few since Andrew W.K., but who also delivers the message through inventive, beat-heavy musical cannonballs, most produced by hitmaker Dr. Luke, that pummel with pleasure.
Out in Kesha land, songs sound dumb — and, yes, sometimes they are — but contain insidious, insightful messages of youth and desire. She's Pink mixed with Katy Perry and Lady Gaga with a dollop of Rihanna, but waves a freakier flag than any of them. Where Gaga is the inheritor to Elton John's brand of rebellion, Kesha's dueting with Iggy Pop and talking about "Dirty Love." She's rock where Perry is pomp: Drummer Patrick Carney of the Black Keys kicks hard on "Wonderland," and the Strokes back her on "Only Wanna Dance With You."
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Is Kesha maturing? Yes and no. The young woman who made her name by brushing her teeth with bourbon on "Tik Tok" has switched to wine on "Only Wanna Dance...," but she's drinking it "on the cement outside 7-11." In her world, there are two types of people: those who dance at a club and those who hang by the bar — couch-dwellers, book-readers and knitters be damned. "All that matters is the beautiful life," she sings on "All That Matters (The Beautiful Life)," and although she may be selling artifice over ethics and pleasure over discipline, she's certainly not couching any of it within self-righteousness.
Will the parents get it? Probably not; nor will advocates of nuance. It is necessary to put yourself in the heads of her target audience to appreciate its power. Most adults still won't connect, and they'll roll their eyes with the first thumping beats. But then, those in charge have a history of criticizing what they don't understand.
Three and a half stars (out of four)