Seven years ago, no one suspected the Bajan teenager singing “come Mr. DJ song pon de replay” would blossom into a global superstar that has broken records set by Mariah Carey and be likened to Madonna. Seven albums and several hairstyles later, Rihanna has surpassed any initial expectations Def Jam set for her.
Though seemingly manufactured, the 24-year-old is the archetype of a Pop icon. Listing her career accomplishments and detailing her indisputable impact to fashion, music and society would not only take hours, but it would require weekly revisions. In her own words: “that Rihanna reign just won’t let up.”
This week alone, Unapologetic, her seventh album in seven years, marks a few more career milestones. The LP is set to enter Billboard 200 chart at number one, a feat that has eluded the singles queen’s previous releases. Additionally, it will earn the “We Found Love” singer her highest sales week to date. Meanwhile, “Diamonds,” Unapologetic’s lead single, has topped the Hot 100 chart, making it her 12th number one.
So, what has Rihanna done differently to set Unapologetic off to a better start than her previous efforts? Absolutely nothing. Yet again, the self-perpetuated “good girl gone bad” has bundled a random assortment of Pop songs with loud instrumentals, R-rated lyrics and infectious melodies for your consumption. These songs exist well individually, but when compiled and heard sequentially, the listen is as belligerent and incompetent as Chris Brown during a Twitter dispute.
“How could you be so hood, but you’re so fucking pop?” is a crass line from the album’s opener, “Phresh Out the Runway,” which was written and produced by David Guetta, Giorgio Tuinfort and The-Dream. Yes, four (including Rihanna) adult minds were involved in creating this ear-piercing, trash-talking drivel. Carelessness of the album’s arrangement quickly becomes apparent. The gloomy yet soaring mid-tempo ballad “Diamonds” casts a grim shadow over the album. It, too, contains a host of writers and producers, including Sia, StarGate and Benny Blanco.
A “Love the Way You Lie” reunion of sorts occurs on “Numb.” Alas, neither excessively sensationalized entertainer treated the Pop&Oak masterpiece, which samples Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” with respect. I’m not sure which was worse–Rihanna’s lethargic delivery or Eminem’s disappointing metaphors. Nonetheless, ecstasy is in the air and Rihanna’s lazy but tolerable singing lingers.
Mike WiLL sabotages his credibility by copying Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance” and pasting its contents onto the draft for “Pour It Up.” Rihanna, being the brazenly complacent singer she is, obediently recycles the melody from the prototype and recites trite stripper references. Of course the obvious shortcomings of the cocky banger are overlooked due to the catchy quotes it offers. However, use your ones sparingly at your local strip clubs. You can’t “call Jay up and close a deal” when you have reached insufficient funds.
Dripping with auto-tune, Future makes an openhearted plea to Rihanna: “I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, I need love and affection.” His warbling warms her heart, and she obliges by effortlessly riding the beat and emulating Jeremih. Like it’s older sister “Skin,” “Loveeeee Song” slow-grinds to a climax complete with an electric guitar. Although it doesn’t leave the lasting effect like its predecessor or Beyoncé’s “Dance For You,” it packs quite the punch.
“Jump” serves as a rejoinder to Ginuwine’s ‘96 classic “Pony.” However, it encourages listeners to hit the dance floor as opposed to the bedroom, thanks to StarGate and Chase & Status’ dubstep creation. The record finds a horny Rihanna beckoning for an aloof former lover that is preoccupied with other girls. Despite being privy to this, Rihanna is confident she possesses what other girls lack and will change him from his scandalous ways. Sounds familiar? Kevin Cossum, one of the song’s six writers, responds on the bridge.
David Guetta continues his pursuit of single-handedly destroying EDM with “Right Now.” Rihanna fails to add any dynamics to the formulaic track, leaving it lyrically discomforting and sonically nauseating.
By the time the delicate piano melody led “What Now,” my attention was elsewhere. The lack of intent to create a sequenced body of work was apparent and off-putting. If it took her ten minutes to record and arrange 60 minutes worth of songs, why should I spend a few hours digesting the fodder for a coherent review? While searching for a deluxe edition of Keyshia Cole’s Woman To Woman to review, the chorus commenced, and I was stupefied. I immediately began drafting a “thank-you” email to producers Parker Ighile and Nathan Cassells for spearheading such an aural masterpiece. Surprisingly, their grandeur was accompanied by poignant lyrics, penned by Livvi Franc, and an impressive vocal performance. “I found the one, he changed my life/but was it me that changed and he just happened to come at the right time/I’m suppose to be in love but I’m numb again,” sings a vulnerable Rihanna before wailing the hook over the bold arrangement.
Tormented with anxiety, the emotionally tumbling singer maintains the stunning vulnerability with “Stay,” which features Mikky Ekko (who wrote and produced the record with Justin Parker and Elof Loelv). The star-crossed lovers moan the sugary lyrics over the piano melody. “Funny you’re the broken one, but I’m the only one who needed saving,” they sing in unison. “Cause when you never see the light, it’s hard to know which one of us is caving.”
Though lovely and refined, “Stay,” like many of the other songs, seems superficially reflective and will surely incite thirsty spectators to research deeper for the meaning of the subtext, which, according to the perpetrators, “ain’t Nobody’s Business.”
Controversy is the dysfunctional couple’s best friend and worst enemy, and they shamelessly provoke controversy by using self-exploitation as a marketing strategy. They sample Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” for an illogical, contradictory golden number. How do you demand privacy and sing about making out in a Lexus in the same song?
If illustrating a tumultuous fool in love was Rihanna’s intent when sequencing these songs, then bravo–she excelled. The 7-minute confession, “Love Without Tragedy–Mother Mary,” follows the blithe reunion with Brown and loosely recounts the well-documented, unfortunate clash that took the best years of their lives. Oddly enough, The-Dream and Carlos McKinney wrote and produced both contrasting tracks. Just when you’re captivated by the story, Rihanna begins praying to Mother Mary and Mister Jesus over sparkling synths. She plans on making the best scene with Chris (I’m assuming), but don’t watch because it’s nobody’s business.
Apparently, minutes before the album was due, Rihanna and co. went bobbing for album fillers and pulled out “Get It Over With” and “No Love Allowed.” James Fauntleroy, Brian Kennedy and No ID should be ashamed. I’d list Rihanna, too, but as the album title and cover suggest, f*cks are things she doesn’t give.
“Lost In Paradise” brings Unapologetic to a somber close, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. By this point, I’m as lethargic and bored as she is, and Labrinth’s production sounds like the best thing since Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck.”
Genius Report: C
Standouts: “What Now” “Nobody’s Business” “Loveeeee Song” “Diamonds”