Rihanna: Rated R

RIYL: Keri Hilson, Amerie, Jordin Sparks

Lest you think Rihanna meant to make some kind of cute alliterative play by naming her fourth album Rated R, she quickly disabuses any such notions by getting down to business with a collection every bit as inappropriate for young ears as its title would suggest. “I’m such a fuckin’ lady,” she purrs in the second track, “Wait Your Turn,” and from there it’s off to war. When last we heard from Rihanna, she was urging us to stand under her umbrella; this time out, she’s more focused on letting us know how hard she is, bragging about licking her gun because “revenge is sweet,” and barking “Get it up … is you big enough?” The music reflects this lyrical left turn; the arrangements are braced with metallic, tricked-out beats, cold, buzzing synths, and stacks of raw electric guitars (that’s Slash you hear on the ridiculous “Rockstar 101,” which finds her boasting, “Rocking this club / Got my middle finger up / I don’t give a fuck”).


It’s a curious blend, really, because as aggressive as Rated R wants to be – and often is, craptastic ballads like “Stupid in Love” and “Te Amo” notwithstanding – Rihanna can never get past her steel-plated drone of a voice long enough to really make it work. More than anything, she just sounds bored, whether she’s declaring herself a “gangsta 4 life” or strolling her way through a duet with will.i.am. This doesn’t blunt the impact of Rated R’s best moments, like the thudding “Hard” and softcore porn of “Rude Boy”; taken in total, it can even function as a sort of meta statement on the emotional disconnect between mainstream culture and its young consumers. In a pop climate where lack of emotion is the norm, Rihanna’s bloodless art makes perfect sense. Still, after a while, it’s impossible not to wish for some good old-fashioned passion. Remember when R&B had soul? (Def Jam 2009)

Rihanna MySpace page


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