Almost precisely a year after the release of her chart-topping, double-Platinum certified Talk That Talk LP (featuring recent hit single “Cockiness”), Rihanna is ready to blow up the Billboard 100 once again with her seventh studio album, Unapologetic. The 14-track set includes Stargate and Benny Blanco-produced lead single “Diamonds,” with guest features including Chris Brown, Eminem and Future....Read the full album review
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For seven years now Rihanna has moved slowly but surely from sweet, innocent, island-kissed crooner to a hard partying, headline generating, pop dominatrix. It didn’t happen overnight, but all the same, it happened. It’s been a long time since she was a Good Girl, and not only has she Gone Bad, being merely “bad” seems almost quaint. But it’s exactly that middle-finger raised lifestyle that’s made her perfectly built for success in the internet era. In an age where songs can sometimes feel like filler in between Tweets, Instagram pics and blog headlines, Rihanna has perfected the balance between celebrity and artist.
It’s perhaps fitting then that Rihanna’s new album, the aptly-titled Unapologetic, is more interesting to talk about than it is to listen to. Ri Ri has never possessed a powerhouse voice, but she’s turned that weakness into a strength by becoming a musical chameleon. Place her in any musical environment, be it a stripper friendly banger, Euro-house jam or R&B slow jam, and she can adapt. On previous albums though she still managed to sound like she was in charge – it might be easy to forget that Rated R truly took some musical risks. Unapologetic is by no means a bad album, it’d be nearly impossible to combine the music industry’s best songwriters, producers and Rihanna’s charismatic delivery and not create quality music, but as an album Unapologetic has no real core, no real theme; unless you count “making hits” as a theme.
Conveniently, or at least for the purposes of writing this review, Unapologetic divides evenly into three sections: hip-hop bangers, pop dance numbers, and heartbroken ballads. Oddly you would expect Rihanna to sound the most uncomfortable on hip-hop bangers, but instead that’s often where the album excels. At the very least she has an ear for picking dope beats that should be the envy of her purely rap peers. Once the Numb instrumental inevitably makes its way onto the interwebs every rapper alive is going to try to “freestyle” over it, although they’ll of course look ridiculous next to Eminem’s guest verse. Similarly, opening track Fresh Off the Runway finds Rihanna on the verge of just straight out rhyming, pretty well I might add, and Power It Up brings on a Mike Will beat for Rihanna’s version of Bandz A Make Her Dance. It’s shallow, but it’s enjoyable – I think I could get used to MC Ri Ri.
Then, after track four, Rihanna’s rap leanings disappear, never to return. The beats and (quasi) rhymes are replaced first by the brand of EDM-pop that she rode to the top on We Found Love, which finds a new polish on the warm Diamonds. It’s catchy, it’s accessible, Diamonds is everything pop is supposed to be, and Rihanna blends into the mix here just as seamlessly as she did making it rain on Power It Up. It’s the same fist-pumping blueprint that she uses again on the David Guetta-assisted Right Now, which also brings in some of those uber-trendy, distorted dubstep wobbles, while Jump jumps fully onto the EDM bandwagon, much to my personal chagrin. Following closely is the more epically minded What Now, which carries a distinctly ‘80s vibe thanks to heavy synths and a shredding guitar solo, and Nobody’s Business, the “please talk about this song about leaving us alone” reunion with Chris Brown. I’m sure plenty of people will play these songs on repeat; I’m not one of them, but the Billboard charts suggest they’re out there, and there’s a lot of them.
And then, of course, there are the slow ballads, the songs on which Rihanna reveals that beneath all the excess and controversy she’s still just Rihanna Fenty, the island girl struggling to find love in a mad world. Stay, No Love Allowed and Love Without Tragedy are all variations on the theme, and none of them particularly impress. All this leaves Unapologetic feeling like an album that was put together primarily for the sake of putting together an album, and when you’re Rihanna maybe that doesn’t really matter. Maybe when you’re Rihanna people will buy your album based primarily on the gravitational pull of your fame rather than musical quality. And maybe, just maybe, that’s exactly what Rihanna’s refusing to apologize for.
Listen to More: Rihanna Written by Nathan S.
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