From bubbly island pop princess to R-rated bondage queen to her current lighter incarnation,...

Talk That Talk Album Review

From bubbly island pop princess to R-rated bondage queen to her current lighter incarnation, Rihanna’s gone through styles the way Ol’ Dirty Bastard went through baby mommas. No sooner has one delivered than she’s onto the next. Impressively, none of these phases have felt overly forced or strained. From S.O.S. to Umbrella to S&M, she’s pulled off each musical costume change with remarkable success. It’s not so much that she’s versatile, exactly, it’s that she’s a musical chameleon, able to perfectly blend in to whatever environment she’s placed. Or perhaps, since it’s hard to get a grasp on just who Rihanna inherently is as an artist, it’d be more apt to call her a blank slate through which any style can be channeled. Her voice isn’t particularly extraordinary or powerful by any traditional measure, but she always still sounds, at the very least, good. Her chorus on All of the Lights isn’t as epic as you’d think Kanye would have wanted, but it somehow still sounds good. Her work on Eminem’s Love the Way You Lie can’t match Em for emotional intensity, but it still sounds good. And when she needs to sound like a sexy girl next door for Drake on Take Care she sounds, you guessed it, pretty good.

It’s no wonder then than that her new album, Talk That Talk, is both a sharp departure from her dark, rock-infused last two albums Rated R and Loud and a more easily enjoyable work. As Rihanna said, just like her idol Madonna, she wants to reinvent her “clothing style and music with success every single time.” Mission accomplished. If Rated R was whips and handcuffs Talk That Talk is a glass of good wine and a sturdy bed. If Loud was a late night booty call, Talk That Talk is a romantic rendezvous among long time lovers.

The last we heard from Rihanna, the last track on Loud, was Love The Way You Lie II, a relentlessly dark offering that delved deep into domestic violence, and by proxy her abusive relationship with Chris Brown. What a difference an album makes. The first we hear from Rihanna on Talk the Talk is the relentlessly upbeat You Da One, an uncomplicated, windows down in the summer cut that takes high school ideas of romance and layers in bouncing percussion and catchy melodies. In other words, it’s purely enjoyable pop. Title track Talk That Talk would on the surface appear to up the hip-hop ante, it does brings in Jay-Z for a (pretty mediocre by his standards) verse, but although slightly more club oriented and adult, it’s essentially pop as well. And We Found Love, which continues her new found romantic streak, uses the Euro-house sound that’s currently dominating the airwaves to instantly head-nodding effect. Pop by its definition has no real sound beyond what most people happen to be enjoying at the time, and Talk That Talk’s catering to pop sensibilities should be seen not as a sign of weakness but as a sign of strength. Rihanna is, once again, R&B’s biggest pop star.

That doesn’t mean, though, that Rihanna’s completely put aside her love of explicit sex – her idol is Madonna after all. But Loud’s nods to hardcore sex and pornography (S&M) are replaced on Talk with some more tongue in cheek (or tongue in some other places) sexuality that’s still enough to earn some disapproving looks from parents. Even the sugary You Da One contains a reference to “hitting it like that”, but by far the album’s most explicit offering is Cockiness (Love It). Over a sparse beat you can expect every rapper alive to “freestyle” over soon, Rihanna relies almost entirely on her considerable charisma to carry the track, and succeeds. The clapping Birthday Cake is shorter, call it a quickie, but it’s just as sultry and playful, with Ri Ri promising her man she’s going to make him “her b*tch.” Hey, if you’re going to get a Parental Advisory sticker you might as well earn it.

Although I’m sure some critics will find fault in the album’s relative simplicity, where Talk That Talk actually falters is when it tries to get complicated. You can just hear the “hey, a more rock track is our best shot at a number one” planning behind the flatly generic We All Want Love, and on Farewell any trace of originality is gone. True to form though these songs still aren’t bad, they’re just not good in any meaningful way. That’s what Talk That Talk ultimately is in though; Rihanna’s declaration that she’s so firmly entrenched in super stardom that she doesn’t have to always push boundaries. Frankly, she’s right.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted 4 years ago

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