Review Summary: A return to mediocrity.
When Rihanna’s last effort, 2009’s Rated R
, was a commercial flop and critically lukewarm, I truly thought that she was a goner: you don’t get many second chances in pop, as producers and song-writers usually jump ship on artists who can’t cash in. She managed, however, to scrape by with little support of her album (where the only successful single was “Rude Boy”) and decided to rely on being “that girl” during choruses of other songs, keeping herself popular by showing up in Eminem, Jay-Z and Kanye West songs throughout the past year. And to ensure that Rated R
was just a distant memory in our minds, Rihanna quickly dropped Loud
in 2010, her fifth album in six years. Does Loud
signify a “return” for Rihanna as a solo artist, or does it amplify all the bad memories from Rated R
was really a disappointing turn for Rihanna, and it was pretty easy to see why: when the girl best known for the upbeat “Umbrella” switches gears and starts mourning and sulking on “Russian Roullette”, people are bound to react unfavourably. Thankfully, Loud
sets out to combine the two styles, mixing upbeat music with more brooding lyrics. The album’s opener, “S&M”, is a fairly run-of-the-mill club hit, but it’s what Rated R
should have been: darker, more sadistic lyrics, but still keeping a feel-good dance vibe. It seems like “S&M” is Rihanna making a statement to reassure listeners that, yes, unlike my last album, you can actually have a fun while listening to this.
And for the most part, Loud
gets a lot of things done right. Along with “S&M”, “Only Girl (In The World)” is one of Rihanna’s catchiest songs, complete with an enthusiastic chorus, big beats and towering synths. Both “Fading” and “California King Bed” are well-done, soulful ballads, completely free of the sulking tone that was found throughout Rated R
’s more slower songs. But the crown jewel of the album, by far, goes to “Love The Way You Lie
Part 2”, where the song acts as an artistic sequel to the popular Eminem song last year. Not only does Eminem contribute perfectly on the track, but Rihanna probably has her best performance here as well.
But as with most pop albums, there’s always the seedy underbelly of low-quality filler. “What’s My Name”, has a disastrously unimaginable chorus (Oh-na-na, what’s my name?), and Drake stumbles at the plate in his guest appearance. “Cheers (Drink To That)” tries to be interesting by sampling Avril Lavigne, but seems to crawl throughout the boring four minute run-time. “Complicated” and “Skin” are go-nowhere filler tracks, while songs “It’s Raining Men” and “Man Down” have some weird Rastafarian bounce to it that never really does either track any favours.
In terms of pop music, Loud
is really nothing special, but for Rihanna, it’s a huge step forward. In what can be described as a successful marketing strategy, Loud
erases all the bad memories of her previous album and successfully establishes Rihanna once again as a prominent solo artist. Truth be told, I have no idea where her evolution will take her from here, but as long as she plays it safe, she’ll be cranking out feel-good pop tracks for years to come.