***1/2 (out of 4)
A few years ago, Ke$ha introduced herself to the world as a glitter enthusiast who uses whiskey for mouthwash. She has no particular image to maintain. So rather than turning to someone like mastermind producer Dr. Luke (the guy responsible for probably a third of your favorite pop songs/the reason you know who
and Ke$ha are) for a disingenuous, guilty-pleasure single, Ke$ha can throw her lot in with Dr. Luke entirely. It's a songwriting partnership that gets about as close to pop's id as possible.
On the strength of this pair letting their imaginations run wild, Ke$ha's second proper album, “Warrior,” takes a glorious, neon-colored dump all over popular music. “Warrior” is happy to try anything that works, drawing on a wide range of influences and throwing them together in garish, unpredictable combinations. Giddy Iggy Pop collaboration “Dirty Love” nails the blues rock of Ke$ha's pals The Black Keys (whose Patrick Carney appears on "Wonderland"), whistling pop ditty “Crazy Kids” lets Ke$ha borrow Big Sean's flow for a couple of verses and “Only Wanna Dance With You” brings the Strokes on board to answer the question of what would have happened if the band had ever worked with N*Sync.
Standout “Wherever You Are” taps into Taylor Swift-ian sentimentality before coasting into the sunrise on sparkling Daft Punk synths. It will be a tragedy if the buzzsaw guitars, taunting sing-song chorus and vocoder breakdown on ultimate kiss-off anthem "Thinking of You" don't make it a massive hit.
There's so much going on here that when you reach run-of-the-mill Ke$ha songs like “All That Matters (The Beautiful Life)” and "Supernatural" – which is still, you know, just your typical song about having sex with a ghost – they feel like a bit of a letdown. "Warrior" is both one of the year's most sonically adventurous albums and one of its most immediately enjoyable, instantly making much of pop music and the very idea of guilty pleasures feel outdated.
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic