Review Summary: What the hell happened to Rihanna? In the short two years since her monstrous breakthrough "Good Girl Gone Bad", her music has now suddenly spiraled into some kind of forced, forlorn and gimmicky mess.
After releasing a whopping eight singles in the past two years and absolutely dominating the radio with catchy hits like “Umbrella”, “Disturbia” and “Don’t Stop The Music”, it seemed like Rihanna could do no wrong: with her sexy look, her infectious hit singles and her numerous guest appearances on other tunes, it seemed like Rihanna was quickly turning into pop royalty. Well, with her new outing, Rated R
, Rihanna officially ruins her momentum by abandoning the ways of feel-good, straight-forward, hook-laden pop, and replacing it with some kind of haunting, dark, gothic monstrosity.
For a first glimpse of Rihanna's confusing and gimmicky decision to become more edgy, one doesn't have to look much further than the album cover: it seems Rihanna went from being an overly-sexy starlet to someone straight out of the early 1980's punk scene. The opening track, “Madhouse”, successfully implements the unnerving tone and feel for the album, as an organ churns underneath some creepy haunted house sound effects, and an electronic voice tells those who are “easily frightened” to “turn away now”. Wow, this is going to be fun!
To be blunt, most every song on Rated R
, ranges from absolutely terrible to completely average. This album is roughly made up of two types of songs, with the first being unnaturally brooding pop songs; all of “Wait Your Turn”, “Hard” and “Rockstar 101” sluggishly sleepwalk while metallic strings creep in the background and a lazy, uninteresting beat just barely keeps it all together. The choruses of these songs are so underwhelming and boring that it's hard to believe that this is the same catchy Rihanna that we knew from before. The most repugnant song on the entire album, however, is easily awarded to "G4L", simply because it scares the living crap out of me: Rihanna uncharacteristically sings about being a gangster and murdering people, and the entire song just comes off as unnerving and immature.
While most of Rated R
features creepy pop songs, there are plenty of meandering ballads to go around. All of the ballads of the album are fairly average, as they showcase Rihanna's terrific voice, but the structures and progressions of the songs themselves are totally forgettable. “Stupid in Love”, “The Last Song” (clever title!) and “Fire Bomb” are somewhat interesting and have terrific vocals, but they all sound very uninspired and are absolutely nothing special. “Photographs” is yet another ballad, but instead of the chorus solely featuring Rihanna's outstanding voice, we're instead treated with annoying backup "vocals" by the auto-tuned tinged Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas. He also has his own verse as well, which adds zero excitement or purpose to the song.
Despite the heaps of mediocrity, however, there are some decent songs hidden underneath the wreck. “Russian Roulette”, which again is unnecessarily creepy, has a passionate chorus but lacks some charm. “Cold Case Love” progresses well and sounds like an authentic effort. “Rude Boy” is a well done, catchy pop song, and “Te Amo” is a subdued, Latin-flavoured number that proves to be enjoyable.
Sadly, though, there's really nothing here that meets or surpasses the standards that Rihanna has set for herself with the monstrous hits she's had over the past few years. Rihanna tried to reinvent herself and make something that's edgy, and I commend her for trying something new, but she forgot to include some good songs in the process. Her forced effort turns out to be very unappealing, as it really lacks any genuine sense of fun and largely just comes off as lethargic and depressing. In the end, Rated R
is too dark and disturbed to be effective mainstream pop, and it’s too shallow and gimmicky to gain merit from any other music crowd, resulting in an album that only really has a few good tracks in contrast of a forced and forlorn effort.