Keeping up with the reinvention of Rihanna can be an arduous task. She left the sunshine behind, went bad and then worse while roaming from a cutesy cherub to a barbed wire clad, Rated R vixen all in the span of four years. On the surface it may seem contrived, but this dizzying transformation speaks to the tumult and triumph of burgeoning adults in the process of finding themselves. It appears Miss Fenty is still on that search both personally and artistically.
Loud is her 5th album and the grind, while impressive, is wearing on our peek a boo protagonist. This isn’t the happy dance and love fest of Music of the Sun, nor is it the dark furor of Rated R. It is somewhere in the middle, carrying an eclectic vibe that moves from dance to Caribbean to pop while exuding everything from humor to ache to vamp madness all in 11 songs. However, some of the material is safe, maybe even generic.
It’s ironic considering the whole point of the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink concept behind the album was to avoid Loud sounding like it could be handed off to a myriad of different pop stars. Rihanna wanted to craft something personal and close to her personality, but what she ended up with was some highs, some lows and a some non-descript pop fluff.
Songs like “Only Girl in the World” and “S&M” may flood the dance floor, but that’s despite their paint by numbers construction and clichéd lyrics. Rihanna gives a rousing vocal performance on the latter, but the digital enhancement is slathered on so thick, Rihanna floats in and out of sounding like a chipmunked caricature of herself. “Raining Men” carries the same general concept of it’s Weather Girl predecessor, but Rihanna and guest feature Nicki Minaj are much more irreverent. The “Ohs” and “Yeahs” can get a bit tedious but their hubris is amusing.
Both Rihanna and Drake said the second single “What’s My Name” is a fun and flirty romp, but it’s really an ode to casual sex that exudes the same unintended despondency found in Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous Girl.” Fenty’s hot like fire lust isn’t believable and her lack of energy on the chorus sounds like the act became old hat before Drake was even done. The extra umph behind her delivery on “Complicated” eats up the finesse in her voice and sounds more like yelling than singing and the skeletal “Skin” is bland.
The strength of Loud is found in stripped down ballad, “California King Bed;” the dark pop tinged Reggae of “Man Down” and the wonderfully reworked Avril Lavigne track “I’m With You” entitled “Cheers.”
“California King Bed” may provide of bit of de ja vu for Fergie fans at the offset, but the acoustic guitar driven track gives Rihanna room to be less guarded and bemoan a display of vulnerability in a close relationship that has turned cold. “Man Down” is a anxiety-ridden narrative about wasting some dude in Grand Central Station and then running from the cops. The track sounds like microwave reggae but Rihanna’s off kilter delivery engages. “Cheers” is a digitized toast to everything that sucked all week that finds Rihanna easing into her West Indian accent and out of the earlier sex chants. It also sounds as if Nicki Minaj may have left a bit of herself behind in Rhianna’s delivery.
Amazingly enough, it’s when she sits the sex kitten down and stops taking getting laid so seriously that her songs carry the personal tinge she tried so hard to create with this album.
The last five years have been a whirlwind of musical schizophrenia for our favorite bad girl. She has touched every nook and cranny of the budding woman experience, including some we all wish she hadn’t had to. However, when the dust and lust clears, Rihanna is at her best when she unwinds the barbed wire and strips down to that hidden good girl who isn’t as manufactured as her music tends to make her seem. Loud allows that to happen in spurts, but not enough to make the album great.
3.25 out of 5
Rihanna – “Man Down”
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