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Rihanna “Loud” Review

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

It’s hard to believe that Rihanna‘s new album, Loud, is already the 22-year old’s fifth studio effort. Actually, with all that the singer has accomplished to this point in her career, it’s also hard to believe that she’s still only 22 years old. The way she presents herself in public and on stage is reminiscent of a seasoned veteran who has embraced her unique voice and personal style. She has been through a Hollywood-level breakup-to-makeup relationship with singer Chris Brown (which made headlines in 2009 when Brown was charged with assault following a domestic dispute) and has painted herself a sexual icon for a new generation with such provocative videos as those for “Rockstar 101” and “Disturbia.” The fact that Rihanna has developed into one of the most revered names in pop music over the last couple of years only increases the awe behind the realization that she’s still six or seven years younger than the likes the Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. With all that behind the vocalist it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Loud will do little to discourage Rihanna’s continued celebrity. What the album offers musically, however, is another glimpse into the range which the singer possesses, as well as a look at her ability to shine even when surrounded by mediocrity.

What immediately stands out amongst Loud‘s 11 tracks is its attraction to club-friendly production. There is little experimentation going on here, which would only reflect poorly on the singer if she seemed lazy in her approach to the music. A track such as “What’s My Name?” doesn’t stand out musically on Loud, but cast against an utterly forgettable verse from Drake, Rihanna’s enthusiasm and sexual bravado (“I want to see if you can go downtown with a girl like me”) carries the song, giving it the charisma to stand out as a solid single. The electro-fusion of “S&M” translates as a bit over-done, but as Rihanna finds her place in the track she is able to lend it some much needed lyrical excitement, no matter how cheesy it may be: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me.” Even at its most lyrically basic, Loud still has a capacity for dynamic music. “Cheers (Drink to That)” is one such track, as it wraps itself around flaccid lyrics about getting your drink on and partying, but ultimately comes across as one of the more enjoyable tracks due to the drinking anthem’s deep, filtered bass and refreshing production as provided by the Runners (the duo behind Rick Ross‘ “Hustlin’”). “Raining Men,” Rihanna’s collaboration with Nicki Minaj, rolls through with Ri Ri adopting Minaj’s flow and style, adding a unique flavor to the album’s flow late in the recording. Lead single, “Only Girl (In the World),” offers one of the finest vocal performances on the album—second only to “Complicated”—as a pulsating club beat intensely raises Loud to its energizing climax. But the only problem here is that the album simply peaks far too quickly.

The generic beat in “Fading” and slow moving acoustics of “California King Bed” both fail to gain any momentum. “Skin” relies on the vocalist’s ever-present sexual empowerment, “Don’t hold me, you know I like it rough,” but its slow atmospheric sound never finds its rhythm; the track is further bogged down by the late addition of a guitar solo that clashes with the song’s fuzzed out background vocals. “Man Down” floats by with Rihanna channeling her Barbadian blood with an unusual off-beat dub that reflects a deep reggae influence. The track isn’t a bad one, but its placement in the album leaves it sounding unusual and out of place. Much has been made of the album’s final collaboration and closing track, “Love the Way You Lie Part II” which features Eminem alongside the sultry vocalist. Just as with “Man Down” the track isn’t poor by any measure, but as it retains the exact same sound and format as the original, which appeared on Em’s Recovery earlier this year, it begs the question: what is the point? Sure, it offers Rihanna’s “side of the story,” but Eminem’s uninspired verse is bland, and when combined with an unimpressive performance from Rihanna what’s left is an unremarkable shell of the original.

When taking Loud in as a whole—despite its failure to come together as a full-bodied recording from start to end—the album still showcases Rihanna’s dexterity to comfortably move between slow ballads, club bangers and odd musical excursions. Ultimately though, even as she settles into her own skin with these songs, Loud doesn’t come together like an album that fully makes the most of the singer’s talents. The irregular production and curiously dull lyrics cannot be overlooked here. Perhaps with a stronger base to work from, Loud might be a better platform for Rihanna to launch the next phase of her career. Instead, it’s just an adequate album that continues to spark one’s curiosity of what classics might still be to come as the vocalist continues to blossom as an artist.