The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 11, 2013

Jeremiah Tucker: Rock 'n' roll an attitude, not sound, for Ke$ha

JOPLIN, Mo. — After listening to Ke$ha's debut album "Animal" in 2010, I decided I wasn't a fan. I hated her record-breaking single "Tik Tok" (still do), and I disliked the shallow, glitter-crusted, party-girl personality her music was hard-selling in order, it seemed at the time, to slightly differentiate herself from the other young female pop stars her producer and label owner Dr. Luke had helped shepherd to the top of the charts.

Then, slowly, I began to warm to her. The absurd, James Van Der Beek-starring video for "Blow" made me crack a smile, and her subsequent singles were better.

Now, with her sophomore album "Warrior," which I listened to over the past couple weeks, she's won me over. The personality I initially found grating has morphed into something approaching charming.

It helps that the chart-topping lead single "Die Young" is her best song to date. Her exhortations to party "like we're going to die young" assume a philosophical bent similar to the way Andrew WK uses "party" as a catchall word signifying exuberance, optimism and everything good in life.

There's still a component to her that's the equivalent of a dirty suburban kid going "bleh!" in your face while you're just trying to go about your business at the mall. But with everyone else in pop obsessed with outrageously expensive consumption, name-dropping brands that sound like a foreign language, I appreciate Ke$ha holding it down for the kids who just want to drink some warm wine coolers and do hoodrat stuff with their friends. She's here to let you know cheap, ripped clothing, crappy hair, smeared makeup and Budweiser are awesome, which is a timeless message, really.

And considering fellow chart-topper Rihanna is preoccupied with making everyone uncomfortable with her weird relationship with Chris Brown, Ke$ha is actually looking like a decent role model by comparison.

At the end of 2011 Ke$ha released a spare, emotionally raw cover of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," and in the buildup to the Nov. 30 release of "Warrior" she billed it as her rock 'n' roll album, leading many to assume she was going for a more classic sound.

She didn't. If you think of rock Ôn' roll as "guitars," then "Warrior" is not that. Her trademark weak rapping, Dr. Luke's pulsing synth-based constructions and very loud auto-tuned vocals are all present.

But if you consider rock 'n' roll an attitude then, yes, this is very much a rock album.

For one, despite copious hooks, "Warrior" is an aggressively ugly-sounding album that matches the teal, orange and putrid pink color palette on the cover. There's very little breathing room as synths pile up on top of each other, and Ke$ha's vocals are always front and center and super-sized.

If the momentum of a song ever pauses, it's usually for even more digital effects. The most atonal rock band would be hard pressed to find a sound that clears a room of old people quicker than the strobing effect on "Wherever You Are," which sounds like the audio equivalent of a life-threatening seizure.

If this seems de rigueur for a modern pop album, I haven't heard many that sound as cohesive and thought-through as this. With Ke$ha co-writing every song and Dr. Luke co-writing all but two, there's definitely a sense they set out to capture the pop version of a fun, filthy and dumb rock album.

The lyrics are almost exclusively about late nights and being young, well-worn tropes, and a gold Trans Am is mentioned numerous times, including on the bonus song "Gold Trans Am," on which she belts a big Shania Twain-sounding chorus that sounds oddly terrific.

Also, on "C'Mon" she tells an ex-boyfriend to perform a lewd sex act in a hilariously crude fashion. And "Only Wanna Dance With You" sounds exactly like the Strokes, so, yeah, Ke$ha is great.

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