Rihanna is back on the hot spot, but this time it’s for her music, and that’s very good news. Her fourth studio album is decidedly her most complete, mature and personal work, taking into consideration she is the co-writer of nine of the thirteen tracks. A renovated Rihanna is back to stay. Now it’s her time to shine.
The semi-instrumental one-and-a-half-minute intro ‘Madhouse’ prints the new Rihanna intentions from the very start. The whole thing is grotesquely terrifying! Especially the freaky spooky organ notes that follow Rihanna’s voice inviting us to “come on, come on, come on in”.
‘Russian Roulette’ is certainly not what everyone expected (a mere sexy sticky Good Girl Gone Bad continuation): it’s a ballad, or sort of. For the first time her voice is the authentic protagonist, only accompanied by a dark R&B-ish back beat. The song may be simple or a half way ‘slowie’, but it’s stylish, severely emotive and much more mature than her previous work. The deep emotion in her voice pulls RiRi away from her classics and introduce her into a more personal and soulful dimension. The lyrics (co-written with Ne-Yo) are now fully significant “It’s too late to think about the value of my life” and seem to be one (or two) steps above the empty ‘umbrella-ellas’ and ‘la la la las’. Although the slight crescendo misses the classic climax (replaced with a harsh and theatrical final gunshot), the whole composition is an unexpected and truly poignant breath of fresh air.
‘Wait Your Turn (The Wait is Ova)’ and ‘Rude Boy’ inject the perfect dose of pure dark hip-hop into the album. Rihanna’s voice is full of that cocky-Yankee attitude and the synthetic heavy rhythm reminisces Jay-Z’s Blueprints. ‘Hard’, featuring Young Jeezy, although being totally radio unfriendly, is a sassy pleasing rap.
The naïve piano-accompanied ‘Stupid in Love’ (dedicated to Brown? “You act like a jerk, you don’t know what you lost, I was the one”) and the hard Avril Lavigne-type ballad ‘Fire Bomb’ reaffirm that RIhanna’s not only attempting to conquer the dance clubs, whilst ‘Photographs’, with Will.i.am’s electronic contribution is the latest version of ‘Hate that I Love You’. ‘Te Amo’, a more summerish flamenco and Caribbean musical fusion we first listened to in ‘Music of the Sun’, dually takes her back to her origins but still sticks to her new and modern sounds.
By the way, ‘Rockstar 101’ and ‘G4L’ (Gangsta for Life) are dispensable and easily forgettable tracks. ‘Cold Case Love’, obviously written by the ‘Cry Me a River’ Timberlake, is actually boring and somehow molesting (note that repetitive popping noise!), though I cannot deny the profound emotion of its lyrics.
‘The Last Song’ is simply the cherry on the top of the cake; a beautiful finale to Rihanna’s most deep and sincere album up to the moment. ‘Rated R’ is not only the perfect combustion of sounds and styles, but also the irrefutable proof that Barbados’ main export has definitely grown out of the ephemeral pop hits and is heading a mature and uniquely personal horizon.
DATE: 23 November 2009. LABEL: Def Jam. RATING: * * * *