Album review: Ke$ha is a wisecracking 'Animal'
She's a classic screwball blond, brassy like Jean Harlow and saucy like Mae West. Hating Ke$ha for kicking pretty boys to the curb and vomiting in the closet of some rich kid whose party she crashed (allegedly, Paris Hilton) is like saying West was too forward when she told Cary Grant to come up and see her sometime.
What makes Ke$ha interesting, though, isn't the substance of her act. It's the way she and her producers -- primarily her mentor, hitmaker Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald -- refashion the screwball heroine role to suit a new era of aggressive superficiality and libertine self-empowerment.
The main lyrical idea behind "Animal" -- that a woman behaving like a sexist, inconsiderate male oaf turns the tables in a way that shocks but ultimately leads to freedom -- is neither new nor particularly useful. But unlike many of the pop ingénues who've tried on this attitude, Ke$ha offers a thoroughly fleshed-out character to embrace or despise.
Her total commitment to the deliberately stupid script "Animal" provides (one that she and her mother, who co-wrote several songs, helped devise) makes it work.
Part juvenile delinquent, part wisecracking dame, Ke$ha pulls the rug out from under the overly proper. She finds power in the modernizing toys of her time, enticing boys with drunken text messages and juicing her libido with the hottest dance-floor beats. If some of her vices, like Jack Daniel's and guys who look like Mick Jagger, are cutely antiquated, she herself is as thoroughly of this moment as is her doppelgänger, Taylor Swift.
Ke$ha's tipsy lilt allows her to effortlessly shift from half-singing to half-talking, a technique that makes her vocals carom like shiny pinballs against the crazy beats and sound effects that make up these tracks. She never gets bogged down or sounds like she's trying too hard.
Her deceptively yelpy vocal bounce recalls the Moon Unit Zappa of "Valley Girl" and legendary rap princesses like L'Trimm and Salt-N-Pepa. Instead of going burlesque like her friend Katy Perry or trying to be soulful the way even Britney Spears does from time to time, Ke$ha mines the history of bubble gum rap, connecting Miami bass and her idols the Beastie Boys to Lady Gaga and Big & Rich.
Her thefts are playful and essentially innocent, which matters a lot. For all of her rampaging, getting wasted, trash-talking and man-stealing, Ke$ha never comes off as mercenary or even really very mean.
The messages "Animal" sends out are worth questioning. Do we want young women to approach sexual relationships as a matter of "turnabout is fair play," or to think drinking until you vomit in a closet is funny? Ke$ha falters both aesthetically and morally when she tries to justify her ridiculousness on earnest and unbelievable ballads like "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes" and the title track.
She should stick to the wisecracks and the slapstick. That's where her power really lies.
Three stars (Out of four)
Photo credit: RCA