“Rihanna’s moved on from the things that previously burdened her. It seems she’s still waiting for us to do the same”
Digital Release: September 11, 2011
Physical Release: September 12, 2011
The musical career of many R&B upstarts’ can be almost as cruelly brief as the lifespan of a gnat. And after a slow-burning start to her own career, Rihanna has impressively held onto the public’s interest any which way she can, mainly because she’s aware of the fact that opened this review; a daunting reminder that practically anyone with a ballsy attitude and moderate singing voice can be an overnight R&B queen. Not everyone can say they’re the next Alicia Keys though, because whilst Beyoncé sustains the most regal air of classiness and Mary J. Blige is a positively ceremonial pensioner in today’s market, some contenders on the scene can barely label themselves R&B, such as Willow Smith. And back when Rihanna was promoting the dark ‘Rated R’ and generally having a bit of a sulk with her music, not least likely influenced by her altercation with Chris Brown, there was an undercurrent of deliberate honesty among it’s tracks. Whilst suffering from inconsistent execution, it’s better moments bore an intelligent and provocative edge that was both challenging and daring; a step in the right direction for the newly-crowned R&B diva.
‘LOUD’ isn’t to be so celebrated, and even though a fairly decent pop/R&B album, it suffered from much the same inconsistency as ‘Rated R’ once you passed track five. ‘Cheers (Drink To That)’ is just about excusable as Rihanna slows down the pace from the pulsating naughtiness of ‘S&M’ and muses “Cheers to the freakin’ weekend/I’ll drink to that”, she half sings, half moans lackadaisically over tripping drums and fizzing synths that often give the impression she’s already had too much to drink and is barely managing to retain diction – a vocal foible that is echoed similarly in the verses. Perhaps not too cleverly used and only adding to the sense of laziness is the jarring Avril Lavigne sample – ultimately useless in a song that could, after some encouragement, stand on it’s own two feet without it.
Rihanna’s Achilles heel is brought to light when she tries to appeal to everyone with too many different ideas and concepts. It’s probably not her we should blame, but her songwriters. She has shown in the past she’s capable of excellence with her playfully sensual, impassioned ballads and slow-burners, but ‘Cheers (Drink To That)’ casually crosses the bold line where her efforts are overshadowed by the great notion that it’s all for stylistic show and self-satisfaction rather than real conviction. There’s attempts to authenticate it – best shown in her delivery, but it proves sloppy and clumsy, seemingly under the illusion it’s calculated fashion is undetectable amongst the uniting message she proclaims with it. But maybe, just maybe, Rihanna meant for this to happen; meant for it to be slightly unkempt. It reeks – or is perhaps redolent – of her considering her responsibilities dispensable through customary celebration: she’s not been out to please anyone with her behaviour (in her lyrics and videos) recently, so it rounds off the ‘LOUD’ era nicely; Rihanna’s moved on from the things that previously burdened her. It seems she’s still waiting for us to do the same.