Sunday, November 14, 2010

Album Review: Rihanna - Loud (4/5)

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me,” Rihanna belts on the thundering electro-pop of opening track “S&M,” in which she confesses how good it feels to be bad—and there you have it—Loud is the album that would have followed 2007’s breakthrough Good Girl Gone Bad if everything hadn’t had gone horribly wrong early last year; a horrific twist of events that spawned her dark fourth album Rated R, an edgy cold-hearted indulge in a shadowing mix pop and R&B.

While Rated R was indeed a very engaging set of songs, I did however describe the album in my review as “a brief stunt of a good girl going bad and returning to prominence a year later,” and here we are, a year later, with Loud, a lighter, frothier more upbeat follow-up, of course with sexual undertones—showcasing her provocative dance-pop edge in the same vein as Good Girl, with some ballads and mid-tempo’s thrown in for good measure.

Following the invigorating electronic-pounding of “S&M,” is current single and eighth US chart topper “What’s My Name?” featuring American rapper Drake, a cooling downbeat mid-tempo—bursts of skittering drum beats and a flourishing backdrop that sort of calls that of “Te Amo.” As a nice enough slice of a pop song this—it’s generic insight lyrically is a quite a steep drop from Rated R—she’s singing about sex again, but it’s lyrically uninteresting. However, more interesting is following track “Cheers (Drink to That)” sampling Avril Lavigne’s “I’m with You,” ventures into more pop/grungy territories, layers of dishevelled electronic guitars in the backdrop while the drums fill the forefront.

“Fading” has a nice prominent beat-driven arrangement, layered with strings and piano chords. It does sound a bit generic pop, but it’s a nice enough mid-tempo, what I like about this is the charming R&B flourish on the bridge, when sings: “I’m about to go insane, I’m jumping of this train, whether wrong or right”—it’s a nice touch. The pulsating synth-driven dancefloor filler “Only Girl (In the World)” serves up some energetic dexterous dance-pop for the albums middle section. This is probably her best leading singles, after “Umbrella.”

The albums biggest highlight is “California King Bed,” a heart-felt piece of guitar-driven pop about two counterparts growing apart. Its opening acoustic guitar arrangement reminds me of Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” The lyrics are confusing, though—she describes a happy relationship (“chest to chest, nose to nose, palm to palm we were always just that close”) then she says (“wrist to wrist, toe to toe, lips that felt just like the inside of a rose”) aren’t there thorns inside a rose? In any case, this is a fantastic ballad—I love its climatic finish with the electronic guitars. It’s the “Fire Bomb” of the album; hopefully it doesn’t get passed over as potential single.

Another highlight is “Complicated” in which Rihanna tried a hand in stretching her vocal ability, particularly on the chorus. Its airy production is nice, pondering electronic beats and synths and bass. Rihanna returns to her Caribbean roots with “Man Down,” I’ve never really cared much for this sound—only “If It’s Lovin’ That You Want”—it’s the accent that makes the song, but I’m not too bothered. American rapper Nicki Minaj pops on the skittering drum beats of “Raining Men.” It’s fun—it sounds like a Beyonce “Diva” re-tread. The seductive “Skin” follows, slow beat-driven production to capitalize on the intense of Rihanna’s sexy lyrics. Sounds a little out of place though.

The album ends on a pretty good note, with Rihanna’s version of her and Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie.” The man himself shows up towards the end of the track to add in an exclusive rap verse to close the song.

I compared Rated R and this inevitable follow-up to Kelly Clarkson’s My December and All I Ever Wanted, the lighter latter following the darker former and it seems that’s exactly how things turned out. Loud acts as the perfect counterpart to Rated R, as well as being yet another solid pop album. Where it disappoints is it slightly generic outlook and its lack of topical direction, although I do feel I probably would’t be saying that if this album did indeed follow Good Girl Gone Bad—It feels like a good follow-up to both.

Best: California King Bed, Only Girl (In the World), What’s My Name, S&M, Complicated, Cheers (Drink to That), Raining Men


ww_adh said...

Great review. This is pretty much what my expectation of this album is... that it will be good, but not as good as her last two albums, and certainly not as interesting as Rated R. Your comparison to Kelly Clarkson is a great observation. Hadn't thought of that.

J.Mensah said...

Why thank you! :) You could argue Rated R was her diet version of Velvet Rope and this is her All for You--I read that in Spin's review. Although I wouldn't go as far to compare RR to Velevet Rope.