While everybody else was paying attention to Rihanna, would-be one hit wonder Ke$ha was quietly turning herself into a pop savant, probably by dousing herself in Cool Whip and rolling around in a pile of glitter, Hefty bags and Katy Perry castoff beats.
On “Warrior,” her second inexplicably good full-length, she emerges both as a fully-formed pop star and an astonishingly canny performer, all primal instinct, humor and nerve. More self-deprecating than Perry, warmer and probably less hygienic than Rihanna, Ke$ha is wise enough to know her limitations (she’s an incredibly compromised vocalist who rarely “sings” outside her “range”) and smart enough to collaborate with every decent rock star who would return her texts. Nate Ruess, lead singer of fun., co-wrote the single “Die Young,” which sounds like his “We Are Young,” only worse. Ke$ha plays a yelpy Exene Cervenka alongside Iggy Pop on the campy “Dirty Love,” complete with an awkward Rick Santorum shout out. It’s not a great track, and to be successful it should have sounded a lot more like the Cramps, but hey: It exists.
“Warrior” was co-produced by Eurotrash demigod/Western culture destroyer Dr. Luke, with whom Ke$ha co-created Britney Spears’s epic “Till the World Ends.” There’s nothing as great here, just a better-than-usual collection of electro-pop bangers, gold-plated party rap, tentative forays into dubstep and even a song that plumbs the mysteries of ghost sex. (“Poison me with love,” Ke$ha sings on “Supernatural” before promising, “I’ll bring you back to life.”) There’s also an ill-advised sprinkling of ballads (including “Wonderland,” which features Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney) on which Ke$ha tries her best to sound both deep and sad, with little success on either count.
“Crazy Kids,” “C’Mon”