Review Summary: If the subject is good pop music, Rihanna surely talks that talk.
It’s easy to label Rihanna’s career, especially since Good Girl Gone Bad, as one oriented purely by marketing decisions. It’s also easy, realizing that Talk That Talk is being released a little more than a year after her last record (the incredibly successful Loud), to judge it as a rushed album, with its intention aimed in keeping the crown of the pop scenery comfortably resting on the Barbadian singer’s head. But for the ones that took a chance on Rated R, and especially for the ones that truly understood Loud, Talk That Talk is one urgent piece of music, packed with pop artistry completely oriented by Rihanna’s moment and personality. And it’s also an album full of good decisions.
For a start, this new album goes for a way deeper trip on the mission to get closer to a eurodance sound (the same influence that made “Only Girl” such a huge hit), than its predecessor. “Where Have You Been”, alongside lead single “We Found Love”, are good examples, and both are leaded by british DJ Calvin Harris. He is even credited as a featuring on “We Found Love”, and it’s more than fair when you realize the lyrics and production of the single are solely his job. His keyboards and synths date back to the 90s dance music, backing up some good lyrics that Rihanna, as in every track on Talk That Talk, makes her on through passion and personality. Maybe a distant relative to “S&M”, “We Found Love” takes a very simple pop premise, summarized in one sentence on the chorus, and opens it up for a lot of interpretations. Rihanna has left her love life dysfunctions behind her, but she still celebrates the fact that she has found this love in such a hopeless place.
The other side of Talk That Talk is about Rihanna trying to make her way back to a more hip hop oriented sound, one that was the very basis of her music through the Good Girl Gone Bad era. No wonder she gets back with Jay-Z on title track “Talk That Talk”. Disguised as a new “Umbrella”, this song is actually an improved remake of “What’s My Name”, counting with Rihanna’s sexy-as-always monotone, a good chorus and excellent production. The result is three minutes of pure hip hop entertainment, but it’s still not Rihanna at her prime. “Cockiness (I Love It)” isn’t either, but it has the redeeming quality of being a triumph of creativity. A surprising melody, vocal harmonies brilliantly produced and an amazing beat shows us that pop artistry is not yet a dead notion on Rihanna’s mind.
On ballads territory, Talk That Talk is a very wide-ranged album. “We All Want Love” is driven by a British-garage-rock influenced riff, but it still has that tropical flavor that Rihanna trademarked, and counts with her vocal charisma to carry melody and lyrics suggesting a very appealing anthem, even if its greatest quality is still being almost overly adorable. “Farewell”, Talk That Talk’s closing track, is an A-list power ballad, resembling a more traditional take on the long notes of “Complicated” or even a updated version of “Firebomb”, from Rated R. She sings “farewell, somebody’s gonna miss you”, and maybe she is saying goodbye to her disturbed Rated R version, or to the “crying for attention” incarnation of Loud. It’s all very interesting, but nothing really compares to “Drunk on Love”. Sampling a tune by alternative band The xx and taking us back to “Te Amo” era with its soft synths, the track is absolutely captivating because of Rihanna’s vocal performance, one that it’s more intense than anything she’s ever delivered. It’s a strong, yet vulnerable, song, and so is Rihanna.
That’s actually the point of Talk That Talk. Maybe she tries to go back and be a little more innocent on “You Da One”, maybe she plays a lot of the sex game of pop music in which she is established herself as the top player. It doesn’t matter. What really does is that Rihanna is showing that she’s very comfortable, now, to truly put her soul on every performance. And that’s just an amazing thing to hear in her music.