Whether this will be a Justin Timberlakean revelation, a Gaga-esque mess of fitful brilliance, or an Alanis Morissette-ish jumping of the artistic shark remains to be seen. While some of the leaked tracks since the release of her debut, Animal, have clearly been born of post-Animal sessions (the hypnotic "31 Seconds Alone," the minimalist "Starvin'"), it's hard to tell if any of them can really be seen as indicative of the direction the new album will take. The recently leaked track "Pretty Lady," a punk rock tribute to drag queens descendent of Garbage's transgender admiration anthem "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)," received plenty of publicity thanks to its fabulous subject matter, and it was also the first clear example of the 70s rock influence Ke$ha has suggested the album will center upon.
Yet another, far superior track emerged in full recently to no fanfare whatsoever; it almost seemed nobody noticed (I stumbled upon it by accident, as I had most of the singer's extensive pre-Animal library). It's a shame, because "Microphone" is the most interesting Ke$ha track since the genre-busting "Sleazy," off the Cannibal EP; if "Microphone" is indicative of the kind of pop styling to be found on the upcoming album, we're in for a treat indeed.
With its strumming electric guitar staccatos, bouncing piped-in flute, and subtle-yet-not-subtle sexual imagery ("What got me off, made me into a freak, what I really want: it was your 'microphone'"), "Microphone" draws from another kind of 70s rock icon, Prince, though it sounds like a B-side to some of his hits of the mid-80s, particularly "Kiss." The lyrics reflect Ke$ha's well-represented musician fetish ("TiK ToK," "Blah Blah Blah," "I Made Out With a Rockstar," "(Fuck Him) He's A DJ") and the tactical sprinkling of straightforward vulgarisms within otherwise benign metaphorical lyrics whose shock value Ke$ha uses to jar without beating listeners over the head with crassness ("Blah Blah Blah," "Grow A Pear"). She utilizes the somewhat eye-rolling "play me like a guitar" Carrie Bradshaw used on her ADD-inflicted jazz bassist boyfriend on Sex and the City and that appeared on the laundry list of lame metaphors in Jessie J's "Domino," but only on the bridge, where the lyrics play a merely ornamental role, and anyway the groovy downward scale in the melodic line on the hook is so unexpected and satisfying it makes up for a few moments of lyrical triteness.
The titular noun is repeated by a heavily processed, almost robotic voice when falling at the end of a line, but close listeners will also notice that the triplet that occurs throughout the track in the bass line is also a rendering of the word. As for Ke$ha's delivery, it's the kind of sly, one eyebrow-raised vocal smirk that paints parts of Animal ("Boots & Boys") and most of Cannibal ("Cannibal," "Sleazy"), and she tackles the unconventional melodic line with a carefree air of mischief, like she's thinking "I know this is cooler than you expected, and I'm okay with that." The song is nearly four minutes long, but when it ends it seems too soon, whether because you want to hear that pre-chorus a few more times or just revel in Ke$ha's groovy, air-conditioned electro-world a while longer. And who wouldn't?
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