Drearily sexual lyricism over showy but shallow production dominates RiRi’s sixth LP.
Mike Diver 2011-11-21
An artist experiencing diminishing returns since 2009’s startling reinvention album Rated R – from victim to victorious in one long-player – Rihanna’s latest can’t stop the rot that set in with the mixed messages of 2010’s Loud. Not that said set was poor – it just failed to match the pop highs of the Umbrella-packing Good Girl Gone Bad and Rated R’s darker tones. The tracks of sixth LP Talk That Talk make a lot of noise but move lethargically – familiar tropes surface in the lyrical content (sexy times being the core focus), and musically it’s a smorgasbord of European dance trends and contemporary RnB production, showy but soulless. Of course there are ballads, too – but after all the saucy front, the slowies feel utterly blunted.
The album begins at a low, the staccato vocal hooks of You Da One irritating rather than engaging. The squelchy, buzzing Where Have You Been is one of two productions from Calvin Harris – indicative of the mainstream dance scene of the UK and Europe making steady progression into the US RnB market. It’s an inoffensive pairing of building beats and sliced-and-diced vocals: to the right feet on the right dancefloor it’ll be manna itself manifested as an arms-in-the-air clubbing highlight. The second Harris hook-up, We Found Love, swells with fevered keys until it explodes, blinding neon like, all over its frenetic, repetitive chorus. It’s by-numbers fare from Harris, given edge by a quite deliberately provocative music video – just the 47 million YouTube views since mid-October.
A forgettable vocal from Jay-Z on the title-track foreshadows an awful exercise in quasi-erotic wordplay on Cockiness (Love It) and a wholly pointless minute-something in the company of star producer The-Dream, wasted on the boring profanities of Birthday Cake. At its halfway mark Talk That Talk takes a turn for the downbeat, the Beyoncé-style paean to perfect monogamy We All Want Love sitting awkwardly beside questionable sexual morals presented by earlier cuts. And Drunk on Love, for the second time in as many weeks release-wise after Rihanna’s guest slot on Drake’s Take Care, matches the Barbadian singer with a Jamie xx (Smith) production, the backing a slightly tweaked take on The xx’s Intro. It feels lazy, an impression that runs the course of this collection, which never convinces the listener that the artist on its cover is fully committed to the cause. On the commercial dubstep rumble of bonus track Red Lipstick, produced by Chase & Status, she sounds as if she phoned in her (again, drearily sexual) vocal five minutes after waking up.
In the recent past Rihanna exhibited a cool nonchalance; here, she’s trapped between playing the characters of a ruthless dominatrix and a docile sort willing to be putty in a boy’s hands. If the real Rihanna doesn’t stand up for her seventh LP, one has to wonder if she’ll ever find herself again.