I am far from the first writer to observe that Ke$ha’s Warrior seems to draw heavily upon the rock and roll spectrum. These rock sensibilities lacing Warrior need to be mentioned, not in spite of their inherent nature and ubiquity but because of it; I fear beating a dead horse, but fear more not weighing in on what has become the accepted overarching narrative. This will, hopefully, sharpen the interpretation of her work that now follows.
So yes, there is a decided coat of rock and roll covering everything here, and yes, it is present in forms both obvious (Iggy Pop; the homage to ‘In the Air Tonight‘ that is ‘Love Into The Light,’ which, when read aloud, rhymes mellifluously with Phil Collins’ piece) and subdued (the Flaming Lips-like opening to ‘C’mon’). In much the same way that Japandroids decided to obliterate the dust mote indie rock of The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear et al with a straight-ahead treatment of rock that required no modifiers, Ke$ha too reaches for a savage base pull, lifting from the low-end, high-reward arena rock spectrum, a place of soaring peaks and valleys that still float above heads even at their most subdued, music meant to be blasted from towering stacks of speakers, so the stage appears bookended by the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Center and that finds its artistic beauty in the sheer size and ferocity of its scope and emotional appeal.
Nowhere is this dependence on immensity more apparent than on ‘Wonderland,’ the album’s low point from an energy perspective, which takes the form of the oft maligned but guiltily enjoyed power ballad, replete with weeping guitars, plaintive piano, and stripped-down vocals powering a singalong hook. This is as bare and raw as Ke$ha’s better-than-you-may-think voice gets, and her mother’s country songwriting roots and her own Nashville rearing are apparent and welcomed, an almost intimate glimpse at someone who so often plays upon the purely lurid side.
‘Wonderland’ is part of a string of cuts that comprise something of a rock lover’s suite, introduced by the indomitable Iggy Pop. Purists will undoubtedly freak, but the collaboration, much like her earlier one with Wayne Coyne, leans more upon the guest than on Ke$ha herself; the youthful chanting, basic drums and staccato bursts of fuzz are a love letter to The Stooges, one which die hards will most likely despise, but which was written for their daughters anyway. Ke$ha’s simplistic, undeniable lyrical stylings are a direct descendent of Pop and his ilk, and hearing Iggy rattle and moan along with her irreverent yelps and raps makes the lineage obvious. It is a bit of a gimmick, sure, but what good rock song isn’t?
Following Pop’s blessing and the aforementioned ‘Wonderland’ comes ‘Only Wanna Dance With You,’ which borrows heavily the jangle of garage rock revivalists, most notably The Strokes, whose fingerprints are all over the song, from the bright, steady strum of guitars to the poppy, organic boom-bap of the drums.
Together, the three songs provide blatant, over-the-top deliveries on the many promises that Warrior would be a heavily rock-influenced album, and also help to highlight the genre’s notions and forms where they lay lower on the track, a not so gentle reminder that, even when buried beneath the heavy synths and highly produced vocals that mark modern pop music, the spirit of an age before her birth is infusing Ke$ha’s work.
Listen to Warrior