The last time we gathered here to talk about Rihanna, for her largely hailed album Rated R, we were also talking about Chris Brown. The Caribbean princess was absolutely engulfed in the incident and America’s former favorite young couple appeared to be forever intertwined by history. It was impossible to listen to Rated R without the beating she received at Brown’s hands seeping into every note, without considering every word a comment on that terrible night. What a difference a year makes. In the past 365 days America has found a thousand other celebrity scandals …
DJBooth Album Review
Judging by the declarative and provocative title, you would think that Loud would be an aggressive and bold album, but instead, despite Rihanna’s insistence that her fifth studio album (yes, that’s right, fifth!) represents an evolution, it sounds more like step backwards – or more accurately, a step towards the great pop middle ground. Ironically, on a purely decibel level Loud is far quieter than the often hard rock infused Rated R, and in many ways reaches back to 2007 for an update to the template she laid down on Good Girl Gone Bad. Rihanna is many things on Loud, except for loud.
Speaking of bad girls, the coquettish Barbadian who once spelled out S.O.S. with batted eyelashes has now chosen to lead off an album with a song called S&M, and it doesn’t stand for snuggles and marshmallows. In many ways the bouncing cut typifies Loud’s consistent refusal to actually push boundaries, electing instead to gently nudge them. While S&M’s lyrics appear on the surface to be scandalous – “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me” - Rihanna delivers them in an un-sultry, light pop voice backed by pouncing, up-tempo production. For a track called S&M, there’s a surprising lack of pain, or pleasure, here. I bring this up not just to talk about Rihanna and sex, which I think we can all agree is a preferred topic, but to set the stage for Loud’s other relatively toned down endeavors. Cheers (Drink to That) is, surprise, an instantly anthemic drinking song that she sings in something between an island and Irish accent that, in comparison to currently popular odes to binge drinking (ex. Like a G6), feels almost old fashioned. Irresponsibility welcome, danger forbidden.
There are really only three times on Loud that we get anything that could truly be considered daring or original, at least by RIhanna’s standards, the first being Raining Men. Sharing absolutely nothing with the disco classic of the same name but a title, Raining is as direct of an embrace of Rihanna’s native land’s dancehall scene as I can remember, complete with speaker busting bass, heavily accented vocals from Ri Ri and a typically schizophrenic guest offering from Nicki Minaj. Throw in a Bounty Killa verse and we’d really be talking. The second time is Love the Way You Lie (Pt. 2), which, though it obviously lacks in the originality department, deserves credit for addressing domestic violence to an unparalleled degree for such a major artist, and the last is my personal favorite Man Down, which has Rihanna delving into the kind of cinematic storytelling I’ve never heard from her. Note to men thinking about doing Rihanna wrong; she’s locked and loaded.
The rest of Loud is absolutely enjoyable. It’s hard to find anything to actively dislike here. For the most part floating along in an ether of pop/rock/dance middle haze. Only Girl (In the World) straddles that aforementioned, suddenly extremely popular line between hip-hop, r&b and techno with chart topping ease, but feels too formulaic to truly make a lasting impression. Similarly, What’s My Name? gives the tabloids something to feast on by bringing Drake around for a catchy, light and “oh na na” inflected soft jam, and the acoustic California King Bed could just as easily have belonged to Taylor Swift. They’re all easily digestible songs from an artist who, with the expectation of Beyonce, personifies urban music’s move into the mainstream like no one else, but musically they’re just not exciting. Loud Enough To Make Radio Take Notice? Yes. Loud But Not In a Way That’s Going to Offend Anyone? Yes. But just Loud? No.
Listen to More: Rihanna Written by Nathan S.
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