Rihanna: Loud

RIYL: Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Christina Aguilera

Like any pop princess, Rihanna is only as good as the songs she’s given – which inevitably becomes a problem once sales drop and the label stops paying for top-shelf stuff (just ask Brandy, Monica, etc.) But on the occasion of her fifth album, Loud, she’s shining as brightly as any star in the music business, and the result is a singles-stuffed collection that, while certainly uneven, reestablishes Rihanna as a capable, charismatic vocalist.

As the title indicates, this isn’t exactly an introspective disc; even by the rather limited standards of modern R&B, the lyrics are a noticeable weak point. Fortunately, it usually doesn’t matter; for instance, although it’s redeemed by its earworm chorus and a goofy Drake cameo, “What’s My Name” is about as annoyingly basic as it sounds, while “Cheers (Drink to That)” is an average club anthem enlivened by strong production (including a nifty, unexpected a cappella interlude) and “Only Girl (In the World)” is a stone dumb club banger that perseveres by sheer virtue of insistence. Meanwhile, “S&M” and “Skin” are your average boudoir tracks, set apart only because Rihanna’s one of the better singers working in the genre.

Production and vocal power can’t save everything – power ballad “California King Bed” is a lumpy disaster that sounds like something Diane Warren found stuck to her shoe (“In this California king bed / We’re 10,000 miles apart”), and “Complicated” is the kind of love-to-hate-you number that Rihanna’s done better before (like on, say, “Hate That I Love You”). On the whole, though, the wheat-to-chaff ratio is admirably high; in such a singles-driven genre, it’s rare that you hear an album this light on filler, and given Rihanna’s hectic recording schedule, it’s easy to imagine a radio-worthy track missing single release. The gently stuttering “Fading” is the best kiss-off ballad she’s ever done, while the aggressive, reggae-tinged “Man Down” and the stomping “Man Down” (featuring Nicki Minaj, as required by law) find Rihanna dabbling, ever so slightly, in new directions. None of it feels as heavy as last year’s Rated R, but that’s obviously the point – this is the sound of a talented young singer getting dumb, and doing it in style. (Def Jam 2010)

Rihanna MySpace page


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