Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Album Review: Rihanna - Loud (4/5)
Rihanna continues her winning musical streak with Loud, her fifth album, which follows just a year after her dark turn on the brilliant Rated R. This album retreats from that album's artistry to safer mainstream dance pop territory--closer to Good Girl Gone Bad--but still more fiery than her older work.
Fittingly titled Loud is an assertive pop record from its high-octane production to its leading lady's vocal. Rihanna sounds different these days--there's definitely more heft in her voice, evident from the get-go on first track "S&M," a brassy dance pop number over which Rihanna sings that "sticks and stones may break my bones by chains and whips excite me." It feels more like a command than a come on though, as the song does not feel particularly erotic, despite its apparent subject. Similarly, Rihanna really belts out the chorus of "Only Girl (in the World)," a stomping dance floor hit to rival "SOS" and "Don't Stop the Music."
But don't think the album is too in your face. A lot of it displays a good sense of fun. "Cheers (Drink to That)," for example, is just silly fun with a warm guitar-driven melody over a mid-tempo beat and a sample of Avril Lavigne's "I'm with You" (it's just "yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah). "What's My Name" is a typical mid-tempo Stargate production: not original, but certainly an enjoyable song. Rihanna reveals her Caribbean accent show on these songs ("don't let the boss-turds get ya down"), a nod to her roots that's been mostly missing from her last two discs.
Slow songs have been a mixed bag for Rihanna in the past and that doesn't change here. "Complicated" is a bit shrill and "Skin" is just odd (in a similar vein to Good Girl Gone Bad's oddball track "Question Existing"). "Fading's" airy synth melody sounds like it was stolen from Enya and mixed with a hip-hop beat. I like the idea of this song, and while it's got a lovely tune, I think the beat overpowers the melody a bit. Much better is "California King Bed," a classy heartbreak ballad that starts with intimate acoustic guitars and pumps up the bigger choruses with electric ones. Rihanna's vocal is the best she's ever sounded on a slow song.
The album ends with a new version of "Love the Way You Lie," which features more Rihanna and less Eminem. The dark domestic violence drama feels really out of place here, ending what's been an album of dancing, drinking and sex on a down note. I guess the message is clear though: she may be having fun now, but she hasn't forgotten.
Best: Only Girl (in the World), California King Bed, What's My Name, Cheers (Drink to That), S&M