Monday, November 16, 2009

Rihanna: Uncut and Raw?

After the pop masterpiece that was Good Girl Gone Bad, it became clear to me that Rihanna and her creative team knew they had a monster on their hands. Her vocals were unique, her style obvious, and her appeal undeniable. She was a great role model in that regard -- strong, sexy and real.

Then the Chris Brown scandal happened, and it was clear that her career path was now at a serious cross-roads. She had not only follow up the Goliath that was her previous release, she had to prove to the world she could be the same strong young woman she projected to be.

Enter Rated R, a dark and haunting piece of pop that has mostly left me scratching my head. Perhaps this is the real Rihanna and the dancey of the Rihanna of the past has been pushed to the side following her "growth period" after the events with Brown last February. There is no question she is a changed person because of it. The part I don't understand is all of this bad-ass posing she insists upon. The disc itself will carry an 'explicit' sticker here in the States, and it's not just because of a few songs.

[Sidenote: Anyone else less than enthused by this cover? Her arm looks like a skeleton. Weirddddd.]

In songs like "Hard" and "Wait Your Turn", she is attempting to create this soldier stance. It feels a bit...fake, to me. The songs will be fun club fare, for sure, and get you bobbing your head. I obviously do not know the real Rihanna, but still, following the problems with Brown, I was expecting more uplifting and emotionally raw material than what we are receiving.

"Cold Case Love" gives me hope, a track written by Justin Timberlake that doesn't rely on fuzzy guitars and pulsating back beats to prove itself, leading to an INCREDIBLE (and I mean INCREDIBLE) finale. "Te Amo", which leaked a few months back, sounds even better in its latest incarnation, swizzling with island swing and cadence. However, so much of the record gets lost in this new dark marketing theme, and Rihanna continually chanting how strong and eff-ing incredible she is. I'd much rather hear her speak her pain than hear about how she's masking the issue. It takes a long time to recover from such emotional and physical abuse as what she sustained from Brown. Not only does this all feel too soon, but it feels somewhat phony to my ears.

"Russian Roulette" ridiculously tries to be artsy and epic, and while I've warmed up to it considerably since it's initial premiere, A) it still doesn't sound like a first single, B) the lyrical content still offends me for someone who to ardently is attempting to parlay herself as a positive role model.

Rihanna has stated she now understands how much of an effect she has on young women. I'm personally in the camp that if you were looking to Rihanna for a soundtrack to lean on through tough times, you'd want her telling her you can survive, you can thrive, you can move on -- not spouting how she's "such a f*cking lady".

So much of the album is just so heavy, indulgent on midtempos and urban sound staples, that it tires me out, and I'm all the more inclined to press stop and spin "Umbrella" instead.

I'm sure I'll be criticized for constantly comparing Rated R to Good Girl Gone Bad, but -- with the latter, you could listen to the whole record and say with a relaxed heart that virtually the entire set could serve as a single somewhere. Not so with Rated R. However, considering how radio friendly her previous effort was, I'm sure Ri is more interested in being experimental...because she can afford to be at this point in her career. My gut tells me the set will sell because of her name, but overall, it's much too sweepy and self-indulgent in places for my taste.

Suffice to say, I'm disappointed.

Best Cuts: Wait Your Turn, Cold Case Love, Te Amo

They'll Grow On You: Russian Roulette, Hard

2 comments:

CJC said...

Thank you!

Thank you!

Thank you!

You said everything I wanted to say about her album.

I love your site and reviews.

You know what's up.

J.Mensah said...

Pretty accurate review, I think I like it more than you do, although I'm amazed in your disappointment you still managed to pick out its best tracks, bless your heart =]

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