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Rihanna – Loud

25 May

(Originally posted 19/11/10)

As a very much out and proud Rihanna fan/mild obsessive, here I present an entirely unbiased review of ‘Loud’, Miss Robyn Fenty’s fifth studio album.

As an actual fair summary of her new album and not at all a hype building marketing ploy, Rihanna has herself described ‘Loud’ as an album full of tracks that only she could sing. These are Rihanna tracks and for 9/10ths of the album she would indeed be correct. There is very much a clear infusion of all four of her previous LPs. The anger and rawness of post-Jay Z and commercially less successful but nonetheless pure 21st Century recording artist brilliance, ‘Rated R’ is very much evident. The bitter personal soreness of her last outing has been soothed on ‘Loud’ with a couple of red-hot pop thumpers á la ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ and a surprisingly large slab of Reggae sourced directly from the gentle tributaries of her first albums ‘A Girl Like Me’ and ‘Music Of The Sun’.

Whereas ‘Rated R’ was almost entirely built upon the themes of Heartbreak, Sex and Guns, ‘Loud’ veers more towards Confusion, Sex and Guns. One of ‘Rated R’’s most commendable attributes was that it felt like a full bodied, well-structured piece of work from start to finish. ‘Loud’’s structure, if any, is a lot harder to decipher and so it’s probably easier to pick apart its pieces one by one.

1. S&M

‘STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES, BUT CHAINS AND WHIPS EXCITE MEEEEEEEEEEEE!’ Not my words, but the words of a highly sexualised 21 year old international popstar who’s been chucked an admittedly brilliant yet off-the-shelf pop song. Considering ‘Loud’ had apparently been produced to become as distinctively ‘Rihanna’ as possible, it seems very unusual to kick off the album with a song that could very much form part of Christina or Britney’s back catalogue. The blatant references to bondage and fornicating would easily fit amongst Britney’s Post-Breakdown, pre-recorded setlist and would simmer nicely amongst The Aguilera’s admittedly sloppy, yet unfairly dismissed tracks of ‘Bionic’. There is one lyric I cannot imagine either of the former Mouseketeers trilling at their concerts however, and this is the one line that moors ‘S&M’ back to the less Tween-age friendly brand of Ri-Ri; ‘Sex in the air, but I don’t care, I love the smell of it!’ Lovely.

On the flipside, I’m sure that like a lot of things, I’m thinking about this song way too deeply. ‘S&M’ is excellent. It’s dancy, club-friendly and rounded off with an immense shout-out-at-the-top-of-your-lungs lyrical pop hook in the form of the aforementioned whips and chains. I’m sure I won’t look weird yelling that drunkenly on a night out at all…

2. What’s My Name? (Feat. Drake) 

‘Coz you’re just my type, Oooh Na Na Na Na’ is my new favourite lyric. I only discovered this track a few days before ‘Loud’ hit the shelves, despite it clocking up very decent sales in the States for weeks. I played it 36 times in two days. Two days where I was at work for 9 hours each day. I love this track. The whole song plays out over a bubbling, yet strangely ethereal beat reminiscent of Beyonce’s ‘Halo’. Crucially, the chorus is genius. I’ll even go as far as to announce, not suggest, that the ‘Na Na Na Na’ is the new ‘Ella Ella, Eh Eh’ darling. I defy anyone not to unconsciously bounce their shoulders while listening to those two and a half seconds of R&B brilliance. The song exudes Rihanna’s Caribbean heritage whilst firmly remaining on the chart-topping side of Reggae, something which cannot be said further into the album. It is this urban edge which may prove less popular with European listeners however, but that is yet to be seen; ‘What’s My Name’ will be released in the UK as the second single from ‘Loud’ on January 10th 2011. Unsurprisingly, America LOVES this track and for added R&B manpoints, the track unnecessarily features American golden- boy rapper Drake, who for some reason still hasn’t quite made it over here yet.

3. Cheers (Drink To That)

Rihanna singing about drinking. Two of my favourite things. This song should therefore be amazing. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Apart from the grating, breathy vocals and the irritatingly post-production dialogue and background voices, for some unfathomable reason the song samples Avril Lavinge’s ‘I’m With You’. Avril’s not-so-dulcet tones tear this song down right from the beginning. The ‘Benny Hill Theme Tune’ would have been a less annoying sample.

4. Fading

A pretty non-descript mid-tempo ballad that starts off with a weird Enya meets that-chipmunk-voice-chavs-like-playing-at-the-back-of-buses style vocal. It even outdos ‘We Ride’ in forgettableness. The only vaguely enjoyable part is Rihanna reeling off varying ways of saying goodbye, including ‘Ta-Ta’ which I thought was something only my Nan said.

5. Only Girl (In The World)

A song with brackets in the title is usually an indicator of a pretty amazing song. Don’t ask me why, it just is. In this case, there seems to be another bracket missing from the end of the title: – ‘(Fucking Tune)’. From its Euro-dance thumps, its fist clenching chorus and actually rather imaginative video, this is a world-class pop/dance/R&B stomper which never stops delivering. Every time I hear it, I swear it gets better. A song that only sounds at home when it’s played at car-rattling volume is a song destined for great things. Definitely ‘Loud’.

6. California King Bed

From the soaring highs of ‘Only Girl (In The World)’, the listener is dumped back down to earth with this quiet yet subtly rock ‘n’ raw ballad. There’s a peculiar Alanis Morrisette quality to California King Bed which bestows an addictive sense of brooding to it. Lyric wise, the track is basically the older brother of ‘A Girl Like Me’’s ‘A Million Miles Away’; an exploration of the idea that although we’re physically close, we’re mentally in very different places.

7. Man Down

This is a very odd song which appears to surround Rihanna having ‘shot a man down…in Central Staaaattttiiiiiion’. Immediately, the song’s firearm references hark back to ‘Rated R’, yet this song would be more out of place on ‘Rated R’ than Tess Daly at a sincerity convention. ‘Man Down’ is like Barbadian quicksand. You can actually feel yourself sinking lower and lower into the sweaty pits of plodding reggae as the song progresses. If the arguably misguided reggae influences of ‘Music Of The Sun’ and ‘A Girl Like Me’ were mashed up into a doughy ball and spat into Bob Marley’s dirty weave then collected together again, the remains would produce ‘Man Down’. Rihanna’s vocals descend so deeply Caribbean it genuinely becomes difficult to decipher lyrics. That is of course until she pulls out the ‘Hear me now!’ card; the lyrical equivalent of ‘Jingle Bells’ indicating a certain commercial festivity. A definite ‘WTF?!’ moment for a casual Rihanna fan living in Blackpool perhaps, but its most certainly a grower and should not be written off at first listen.

7. Raining Men (feat. Nicki Minaj)

Not that ‘Raining Men’. No Geri Halliwells or overweight black women here. Instead we have a mid-tempo R&B collaboration between two of the most powerful and exciting women of the genre at the moment; which is exactly why this track is such a disappointment. With a chorus apparently consisting entirely of ‘Oh yay yay, ohhhhhhh’ it almost screams ‘SKIP ME! THIS ONE’S BORING!’ In fact, my ipod has begun actually doing this by itself 14 seconds into the song. I’m not even joking, I have no idea why. Anyway, I’m a fan of the Minaj’s and it is only her far too brief appearance on this track which differentiates it from ‘Say It’; by far the most dull and forgettable track on the otherwise glorious ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’.

8. Complicated

Another slowy. This track could have easily found itself on the ‘skip’ list. However, Rihanna’s magnificent vocals elevate it from tiresome to awesome in one fell swoop. Without getting too ‘X Factor’ about it, it is this song which truly shows ‘how far she’s come’ since the sluggish pop-R&B beats of ‘Music Of The Sun’. Vocals like these have never before been documented on a Rihanna album. You almost expect the speakers to burst as Miss Fenty’s soaring vocals rise to a goosebump arousing pitch. I, for one, cannot wait to hear this performed live.

9. Skin

It’s about sex. Sample lyric: ‘TV on blast, turn it down, turn it down, Don’t want it to clash with my body screaming out.’ If there was a dance remix of this, I might like it. Too slow and never actually goes anywhere. If ‘skin’ was a colour, it’d be grey.

10. Love The Way You Lie (Part II) (Feat. Eminem)

Incredible. Just incredible. The original ‘Love The Way You Lie’ is officially one of my favourite songs ever and I approached Part II with trepidation. It was almost like Brandon Flowers announcing he’d done a solo version of ‘Mr. Brightside’. I didn’t know whether to be excited or nervous. Either way, I don’t think I’d ever anticipated a song more than ‘Love The Way You Lie (Part II) and it doesn’t disappoint. In no way should this song be considered a ‘re-hash’ or a hastily written ‘cash in’ on ‘Part I’. The new lyrics, penned from the female viewpoint as opposed to ‘Part I”s male, are both beautiful and heartbreaking, much like Rihanna’s voice which makes rather than simply ‘does justice’ to the song. I once heard Eminem describe how there was simply nobody else who could have sang ‘Love The Way You Lie’ and ‘Part II’ only emphasises that. Epic.

Despite my negativity in places, ‘Loud’ is by no means a bad album. It’s just not brilliant. ‘Loud’ has lost the compelling sting of ‘Rated R’ but does not contain enough chart-friendly ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ moments to make up for it. In fact, at only eleven tracks long, the album can easily leave the listener unsatisfied. Although a fascinating closer, ‘Love The Way You Lie (Part II) feels more like a bonus track than a fully fledged part of the album and two or three of ‘Loud’s tracks would easily be considered filler if they had appeared on ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ or ‘Rated R’. That said, all ten tracks offer a glimpse of a refreshing evolution to Rihanna’s sound which seems to have been a key aim of the ‘Loud’ campaign. ‘

Loud’ is a stepping stone, not a masterpiece. Four albums down, Rihanna’s fifth may indeed carve a more rounded sculpture of Rihanna as an established pop/R&B recording artist, but this portrayal seems a little too freshly cut at this moment in time and seems to require a little more dusting to truly get to the bones of the idea.