There’s no denying the pop lightning-in-a-bottle Ke$ha captured on her breakthrough debut “Animal” and its follow-up EP “Cannibal,” producing two Hot 100 No. 1 singles and an impressive list of Top 10 hits.
So it’s understandable why Dr. Luke and his dream team of co-writers and pop protégés, including Max Martin, Cirkut (Karmin’s “Brokenhearted”), Benny Blanco (Maroon 5’s “Payphone”), Klas Ahlund (Britney Spears’ “Piece of Me”), Bonnie McKee (Katy Perry) and others, would want to re-create that success as much as possible – even when Ke$ha seems to be fighting desperately to make another record entirely. That push-and-pull makes “Warrior,” her second full-length album, a fascinating if ultimately unfulfilling listen. With 10 of the regular edition’s 12 tracks helmed by Dr. Luke and additional collaborations with Martin, Shellback (Pink, “Moves Like Jagger”) and Greg Kurstin (Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”), “Warrior” is a pure pop album with rock influences, despite Ke$ha’s attempts to make it the inverse.
One thing that’s more apparent this time around is Ke$ha’s desire to prove her vocal prowess. “I got really sick of people saying that I couldn’t sing, because I can do very few things confidently in my life,” Ke$ha said in a Billboard cover story previewing “Warrior” this October. While the attempts at less Auto-Tuned singing aren’t always successful, they’re at least more interesting than many of her raps – most notably lead single “Die Young,” where she sounds drowsy and bored where she should be lively and in-your-face. Sadly, her most inspired song, “Past Lives,” is a team-up with Ben Folds and The Flaming Lips worthy of the latter’s “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots,” but gets relegated to the last track on the deluxe edition.
Which tracks are the best on “Warrior”? Read on for Billboard’s track-by-track review.
1. Warrior – Ke$ha has something of a knack for making her albums’ title tracks (“Animal,” “Cannibal”) mega-catchy mission statements about her fearless state of being. “Warrior” takes those personal manifestos one step further by speaking for herself as well as her legion of fans – whom she addresses at one point. “Now this is our time / Our generation / And we’re impatient / Animals, you ready to fight?”
2. Die Young
Although it’s a bona fide hit with a good chance at becoming her latest No. 1, “Die Young” is one of Ke$ha’s weakest hits to date in spite of its impressive pedigree. Co-written by fun.’s Nate Ruess and with production from Dr. Luke, Cirkut and Benny Blanco, “Die Young” is both overstuffed with hooks and anemic in energy from Ke$ha herself, who turns in one of her laziest raps. And yet, that chorus.
3. C’Mon – Thematically the exact same song as “Die Young,” a YOLO dance jam about taking hookups from the dance floor to the bedroom, “C’Mon” layers a hypnotic vocal loop a la Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” on top of a beat so chewy and rubbery you can practically grab onto it. This is Ke$ha at her most “Your Love Is My Drug”-level fun.
4. Thinking Of You – Ke$ha’s rock-star aspirations kick in on this stadium-sized kiss-off to a (possibly famous) former flame, complete with a Daft Punk-ified vocoder breakdown. “I know I said I wouldn’t talk about you publicly but / That was before I caught you lying and cheating on me slut,” Ke$ha sneers as live drums pound around her. As the first proper team-up between Dr. Luke and Teddybears/Robyn mastermind Klas Ahlund, “Thinking Of You” is the stuff pop dreams are made of.
5. Crazy Kids
This is Ke$ha at her most take-it-or-leave-it. Rapping on top of one of her grimier beats, Ke$ha drops a few F-bombs, rhymes “Gucci” with “coochie” and also contributes some of her best vocals on the song’s sing-along chorus.
6. Wherever You Are – Ke$ha’s sensitive, romantic side comes out on “Wherever You Are,” an uptempo love song that is perhaps closest to being her own version of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” which also shares co-production from Dr. Luke.
7. Dirty Love (Featuring Iggy Pop) – All of Ke$ha’s rock-star fantasies seem to be coming true on this glam-rock stomper with Iggy Pop, where Ke$ha wails on top of a giddy beat straight out of Pop’s own “Lust For Life.” Iggy’s Cole Porter-channeling guest verse name-checks cockroaches, rug merchants and Rick Santorum all over the course of three couplets, officially lending the song the punk-pop authenticity it so desperately seeks.
8. Wonderland (Featuring Patrick Carney) – A Nashville native, Ke$ha goes country-pop on “Wonderland,” a piano, organ-and-drums ballad featuring The Black Keys’ Carney on the sticks. A plaintive ode to her hometown, “Wonderland” sticks out like a sore thumb on an over-produced pop album, but it’s a welcome change of pace.
9. Only Wanna Dance With You (Featuring The Strokes) – Another ode to 70s rock, featuring “Is This It”-era guitar work from The Strokes, “Only Wanna Dance With You” is a bouncy throwaway that further stretches the multiple personalities Ke$ha explores on “Warrior.”
10. Supernatural – Otherwise known as the ghost-sex song, “Supernatural” is a rare song about other-worldly love that apparently doesn’t require metaphors. Featuring an insidious, sneering synth hook and surprise songwriting contributions from 80s one-hit wonder Nik Kershaw (“Wouldn’t It Be Good”), “Supernatural” is a surprisingly strong ode to reaching out to the other side, so to speak.
11. All That Matters (The Beautiful Life) – A hands-in-the-air club track a la Britney’s “Till The World Ends,” which Ke$ha famously cowrote, “All That Matters” is Max Martin and Shellback’s sole contribution as producers but ultimately more forgettable than many of the duo’s other 2012 compositions, even Christina Aguilera’s “Your Body.” However, Ke$ha’s plea to “Put your motherfucking phones up / light ’em up” is guaranteed to be a hit on tour.
12. Love Into The Light – A collaboration with Greg Kurstin, “Love Into The Light” is a vulnerable ballad opens with Phil Collins-esque drums and a few confessions (“I know that I’ve got a sordid past / and yes some bad tattoos”) that evolves into a hopeful, soaring battle cry against “all of the shit talk, all of the chatter.” It ends the frenetic album on a surprising note, but at least provides evidence that there’s more to Ke$ha than the glitter-loving, Auto-Tuned hot mess image she so desperately tries to run away from.