Review Summary: An album deep with solid tracks, Rated R finds Rihanna exploring post-relationship emotions in a mature yet pop-friendly way.
How good is Rihanna's latest album Rated R? Some critics included the album on their best of 2009 lists. Notable publications such as The Guardian, Chicago Tribune, and Entertainment Weekly even had the release making the top 10 best albums of last year. For this critic, upon first listen I felt as if the tracks were unbalanced and lacking an overarching cohesion. Yet as the play counts mounted I have found Rated R to be perhaps the best Pop album of 2009.
This is not to say that Rihanna is flawless in this effort or that there weren't other worthy pop albums made last year, but that I think the disc blends a varied selection of styles in a mosaic of pop sensibility. Beginning with a dark motif that perhaps aids in exorcising the demons of her recent domestic issues the songs bounce from aggressive and hard to lively and flirtatious. Throw in a couple ballads penned by Ne-Yo and you have all the ingredients for a great pop album.
Listeners won't find as many radio ready hits as on her previous release but I think this points to a more mature, if not seasoned, Rihanna. We can at least be grateful that the album didn't become solely a vehicle for the singer to go confessional like a certain Mr. Raymond who at times sacrifices good R&B for honest effusion. Rihanna imports just the right amount of reflection without unneccesarily weighing the album down.
While many of the tracks on Rated R might never see the light of day as far as radio is concerned, the album can be played from start to finish with very little lag. And while my favorite track is still the lead single "Russian Roulette", selecting this track as the first taste of Rihanna's darker sound was probably a bad marketing move. While it is a powerful ballad it doesn't have the radio sizzle that other tracks such as "Hard", "Rockstar 101", and "Rude Boy" have. Thankfully, "Hard" is beginning to take over the airwaves and perhaps this will create the opportunity for the casual listener to see where critics are coming from and explore the depth of Rated R.
3.5 / 5 stars