What can I say about Rihanna? From an unlikely beginning as yet another mid-00s RnB/Urban singer, she’s really turned things around and become one of the world’s biggest stars. As far as albums go, I started with Good Girl Gone Bad, her big breakthrough. Since then her singles have been brilliant but I’m yet to find an album of hers that reaches the same level of star power. Rated R, admittedly I didn’t give much of a chance to. Loud was a more accessible dash for more profitable territory.
So now here we are with album number six already. I can’t really blame them for being in it to win it, and releasing what is essentially Loud II. I’ve heard it was planned to be a bonus disc to a Loud re-issue, and that’s a tempting theory, it doesn’t feel like quite the A-Game Loud was. That sounds a bit like I’m damning it with faint praise, I’ve really enjoyed listening to it during this week, it’s an easy listen, and should see her cleaning up in the Christmas sales. I just hope the people behind her don’t get money-blind and stop taking any chances in the future.
08 You Da One – That intro really sticks in my head. The unlikely but default second single has a nice laid back swing to it, a perfect album track, but I’m not sure the chorus has enough going for it to sit alongside her massive hits of the last year. I guess it’s different to her other singles, and I’m happy to be convinced later, just like Rude Boy did with that amazing video.
09 Where have you been – The success of more dance-oriented tracks has obvious effects on this album, and I think that’s a great match for her. I think they would be insane not to put this up as a single at some point. I can see why they haven’t put it out so soon after We Found Love though, it would be a bit too similar I suppose. Lots of drama, and some real everything-and-the-kitchen-sink production too, the instrumentation seems to change every 30 seconds, it’s an interesting soundscape and a strong track that keeps the energy levels up for this album.
10 We found love – So here’s the big hit so far, transatlantic No.1 for a transatlantic pair (with Scottish DJ Calvin Harris on production duties). Doesn’t really sound anything like Calvin’s other tracks, and a relief that the guy who made some great songs in 2010 hasn’t totally lost his creativity, as his 2011 singles seemed to indicate. The words don’t seem to make a lot of sense, but I don’t suppose they need to on these sort of tracks. The video’s great too, really seems to fit the track well, though I still can’t get my head around a Rihanna video in a British council estate (along with the least convincing festival crowd scene I’ve seen for a while). I love pop-dance music, and this just ticks all my boxes. I hope the success of this continues to draw in other traditionally more boring RnB artists (oh hello Usher), without forcing them all through David Guetta’s doors.
08 Talk that talk – so Jay-Z returns for another round of feature credits, after Umbrella’s incredible success. He does add more to this one at least. It’s not the most exciting track in the world, a pretty standard rap about the extravagant life of a megastar. While the song isn’t great, I can totally see this as a single, it’s basic but appealing. That “Give it to me baby” breakdown is a nice change of tone, but then we are back into that unadventurous but solid chorus. Save this one for the inevitable barrage of buzz singles that seem to get thrown out at the tail end of each album campaign.
07 Cockiness (Love it) – Dirt! She’s not disguising the double-entendres much here is she? Not one to shy away with the adult content, Rihanna just seems more natural with these sorts of songs, it’s not like “RiRi’s raunchiest song yet!” headlines are a likelihood in the way more nicey-nicey popstars might get. That guy in the background is quite annoying (YOOO!!!!). It’s memorable just for being a bit clunky and harsh, some really jarring noises going on here.
06 Birthday Cake – Apparently this isn’t an interlude, they just didn’t finish it before the rush-released album launch. I’m not sure I believe that, though I’m not sure how much more of this I would have wanted to hear. It’s another sexytime track about licking icing off things (yeah right), and she finally drops the pretence in the last fade-out seconds. I wonder what if that was meant to be a whole song. It’s no great loss though.
06 We all want love – Is that chord progression just nicked from Bruno Mars’ Marry You? Either way, a change of tone to something a bit more radio-friendly. It’s pretty blah though, the lyrics could have been written by an 8 year old really, it’s just 4 minutes of lyrics basically summarised by the title. She sings it fine, and it’s not a bad song, but I can’t get excited about it at all. Filler!
08 Drunk on love – Now I like this, little electro flourishes on an otherwise downtempo song, this works really well. Her voice gets a nice bit of exercise, which probably rules out any live promo for this as a single, but it’s an understated track that fits her as an artist better than the schizophrenic selection of “Raunchy RiRi” and “Radio RiRi” picks that take up a lot of the album’s runtime. Not a pioneering track but it’s still pretty good.
08 Roc me out – Now this has the feel of another single (I nearly said swagger but I’m way to white to use words like that). The brash noisy electro production gives a great energy to this one. The lyrics are really nothing new, and the chorus is the usual vaguely sexual stuff, but it’s instantly catchy. It might get a bit repetitive but I think it hits more than it misses.
07 Watch n learn – Another entry in Rihanna’s Caribbean-lite catalogue now, and an entry into Rihanna’s much longer “songs about sex” catalogue too. For such a nice upbeat song, I’m surprised how dirty it gets, I can only imagine why Rihanna’s lips can’t kiss back … OH MY GOD. Well she seems to be having fun anyway, I wonder how much of this steer towards sexual content is down to Rihanna, I’d hate to think she’s being pushed into this. Still, she sings it convincingly and the track’s still fun and the production is buzzing with energy.
07 Farewell – No regular ballads yet? Oh well let’s just tack one on the end. Feels like this was a last-minute addition with eyes on a potential single if the dance trend dries up midway through the campaign, straight from “Beyonce album management for Dummies” (I only wish Beyonce’s team had referred to that for the “4” campaign and its 27 buzz singles). Much in the same vein as the also-uninspiring California King Bed, this isn’t much to write home with, but I think a good video and a few good promo spots would pull this one through. A bit of a boring note to close the album on though, I guess they couldn’t really fit it anywhere else.
So that’s that, 37 minutes(!) and it’s all over. The short runtime adds more weight to the “Loud bonus disc edition” theory, and it does feel more like a clearout of the Rihanna song vaults than anything. Christ knows how Nicole Scherzinger is going to throw together another album if that vault has been plundered already. Oh well. So it does feel like an echo of Loud, which is by no means a bad album to try and emulate. She won’t struggle for singles (particularly if she puts another album out next Christmas too), and to be honest I’d much rather her be doing albums like this than the generic RnB stylings of that endless scrap-heap of 00s ‘starlets’ like Ashanti, Shontelle, Lumidee, Ciara etc.
Keepers for the iPod: You da one, Where have you been, We found love, Talk that talk, Roc me out.