“A perfect example of over-thought balladry that ends up as nothing more than another song for Rihanna to sing, even if she does it well”
Digital Release: May 13, 2011
Physical Release: June 12, 2011
So, looking back at the ‘LOUD’ era – something that was meant to be Rihanna’s return to the playful R&B popstar status she had before the dark ‘Rated R’ period – and it seems that all we got instead of what we were promised was a rushed out, try-hard collection of songs that felt more like image re-calibration than a body of work she was proud of. No recognisable identity and the frequent dabbling into the realms of controversy made one find it hard to believe that their success was based on musical quality alone.
Even so, ‘LOUD’ has undoubtedly been the most successful album campaign of her career, as she scored three Top 10 hits in both the UK and the US – ‘Only Girl (In The World)’, ‘What’s My Name?’, and ‘S&M’ – all of which hit #1 in the US. And now it’s time to take a warming stroll through some of Rihanna’s deepest love issues on the next single, ‘California King Bed’.
A simple acoustic guitar refrain opens the ballad, one which discusses the struggles of being in a strange limbo between love and confusion in a dwindling relationship. It’s nice enough. Rihanna’s vocal is flawless as she pours her emotion onto the listener, but it’s effect is diluted quite substantially by how the production feels like it spent too much time trying to sound like an ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’-style power ballad and not enough time trying to merge with Rihanna’s voice. It turns something that could’ve been very emotive into a soppy soft-rock howler complete with trite piano and a dreary, faux-Slash guitar solo.
Aside from the middle eight – the short thirty-odd seconds where things seem to click – ‘California King Bed’ is a perfect example of over-thought balladry that ends up as nothing more than another song for Rihanna to sing, even if she does it well. That’s her prerogative as an artist – and it’s certainly been earned, but it underlines the one thing we’ve always wondered about Rihanna – what is she really feeling?