Rihanna - Rated R (2009)

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A great way to soothe the hurt away is to keep working. After a brief hiatus stemming from her high-profiled breakup with R&B prince Chris Brown and barely escaping the grips of becoming the next poster child of domestic abuse, Rihanna is back at work with her latest carnival of pop-frizzled R&B. On Rated R, Rihanna goes for bold, outlandish imagery and shows no sign of temperance as it pulsates like a suspenseful drama flick. "Russian Roulette," leaked weeks before the album release, puts a very vulnerable Rihanna in a dark place leaving only her periodical gasps, heart beating drums, a closing gun blast and metamorphic lyrics ("...So just pull the trigger") with the heavy burden of interpretation. Much of the album's danger, possibly the greatest trait, lies in her playfulness with pop melodies in conjunction with heartbreaking, painful lyrics.

A great way to soothe the hurt away is to keep working. After a brief hiatus stemming from her high-profiled breakup with R&B prince Chris Brown and barely escaping the grips of becoming the next poster child of domestic abuse, Rihanna is back at work with her latest carnival of pop-frizzled R&B. On Rated R, Rihanna goes for bold, outlandish imagery and shows no sign of temperance as it pulsates like a suspenseful drama flick. "Russian Roulette," leaked weeks before the album release, puts a very vulnerable Rihanna in a dark place leaving only her periodical gasps, heart beating drums, a closing gun blast and metamorphic lyrics ("...So just pull the trigger") with the heavy burden of interpretation. Much of the album's danger, possibly the greatest trait, lies in her playfulness with pop melodies in conjunction with heartbreaking, painful lyrics. "Fire Bomb" soars with its poppish, radio-ready formula of cool, even though her anguish is far from being a mere vapor ("I just want to set you on fire so I won't have to burn alone"). "Rude Boy" encircles a cool club beat and complimentary synths, but showcases a naughty side to her late night persona. And even "Stupid in Love" feels like an interesting memo to Chris Brown ("I still love you/ but I just can't do this/I may be dumb/ but I'm not stupid"). Some of the songs get ridiculously experimental: rocking with Slash on "Rockstar 101," and her proud chants of being such a "f-----g lady" on "Wait Your Turn." But, songs like the calming "Te Amo" and her collaboration with Will.i.am on "Photographs" help keep the album from drowning into morbid depression. It's an interesting situation for the "Umbrella" queen, especially since she's getting as dirty as Madonna. On Rated R, she's no longer the good girl we've all grown to adore. She's a little bad girl here. Although totally unexpected (even vulgar at times), it still remains a satisfying entry.

Notable tracks: "Russian Roulette," "Fire Bomb," "Rude Boy" and "Te Amo"

Vocals: 2.0 stars
Lyrics: 2.5 stars
Music: 2.0 stars
Production: 2.5 stars
SoulTracks Call: Cautiously Recommended

By J. Matthew Cobb

 
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