Rihanna, the queen of yearly album releases is back with her seventh studio album ‘Unapologetic’. It is difficult to judge this sonic affair without using paparazzi-details to fill in the implied blanks. There is stuff here that’s worth listening to, only if you could untangle the music from her past relationship with Chris Brown (who still seems to be her kryptonite). But somehow you can’t, and furthermore, you get the feeling that the artist doesn’t want you to either.
We fear she might be treading into some less radio-centric territory this time. There's still a fair share of club numbers for all the rude boys and bad girls. We tell you if she has raised the bar just again, or not.
#1 “Phresh Off the Runway” (feat. The Dream and David Guetta)
Opening with a straight-up hip-hop track by the biggest name in EDM, we hoped this one to shake up expectations. This gritty club banger however, rumbles more in your chest instead of rattling your feet. It seems to strive to make a statement through "shocking" use of the F word and gets so static, it borders on unmusical.
Rih’s throatiest vocals do wonders for some subdued lyrics on the spectacle ‘Diamonds’. Everything about this gorgeous ballad positively shines. Not only does this one feel atmospheric and laid-back, but also manages to run smooth.
For my money, it also sounds more convincing as a James Bond theme when compared to Adele’s rather stoical “Skyfall”. The Bajan beauty soulfully croons in a somewhat Sia-inspired enunciation ("shayn brahyt like a diamond!"), making this one of her finest solos till date.
#3 “Numb” (feat. Eminem)
The duo seemed promising enough to deliver another chartbuster after ‘Love The Way You Lie’. But they disappoint. Middle-eastern influences dominate this slow-grinding track. RiRi dreamily coos on repeat along the song's trippy island-y beat. Slim Shady’s animated verse was probably wasted in this landmine of bass drops. To me, it ran like a faulty tape.
What you take away is a memorable line -“I’m the siren that you hear hear/I’m the butt police and I’m looking at your rear rear rear.”
# 4 “Pour It Up”
Rih chants “Pour it up, pour it up. That’s how we ball out," over hypnotic beats and handclaps. Navigating deeply into Rated R territory, the moody (and, slightly creepy) beat is catchy. Surely, something that’d be played at strip clubs, I guess.
# 5 “Loveeeeeee Song” (feat. Future)
RiRi makes her way back into the mushy zone, with this ballad that’s been cured into a weapon of emotional chill. This number with an unforgivably stupid title has an auto-tune with a plea for “love and affection” .Future’s digitally shattered voice might transpose you back to a lot of BEP numbers. This one could be saved by a better duet. If they call him the Future, the Mayans probably knew.
# 6 “Jump”
Sure, "Gangnam Style" is the craze of 2012, but Ginuwine's "Pony" has been having quite the cultural reawakening this year. Here it is given a dubstep-ified update by Rihanna, supported by a sexy, slow-churning chorus. Blatantly influenced by Skrillex, it makes for a wall-shaking resonate that utterly annihilates the speakers. It’s the baddest track on the album (in the best ways).
# 7 “Right Now” (feat. David Guetta)
Here comes the feel-good anthem for clubs. Musically similar to Calvin Harris’ “Feel So Close”; this one’s an oddly generic dance-pop smasher that you’d see on the Top 40s. There’s an instant bubblytude about it, and is just what you’d expect from the duo, nothing more.
# 8 “What Now”
An emotionally-charged ballad, that has vulnerability written all over it. This one is accompanied by an epic chorus that punches harder than anything she’s done in years. Perhaps, one of the best power ballads by Rih, showcasing one of her very best vocal chops so far.
# 9 “Stay” (feat. Mikky Ekko)
This delicate piano-ballad puts an interesting spin on her relationship with Brown. Indie artist Mikky Ekko furnishes vocals with an Elton John feel to it, which seem crisp. Rihanna rih-minds us that she is not just another radio-friendly pop queen but also someone who can deliver a stunning acoustic performance.
# 10 “Nobody’s Business” (feat. Chris Brown)
It’s tough to put aside everything you know about these two’s whirlpool-y past and avoid the fact that the track is slightly cheesy. Breezy and RiRi take turns making lovey-dovey promises to each other while telling the world to stay out of their business. Laced with a delicious MJ referencing tune, this is my personal favorite. A definite stand-out, even if the subtext is a tad bit, uh, controversial (and maybe, that’s the point). I suspect, it’s a sick marketing dodge.
# 11 “Love Without Tragedy/ Mother Mary”
Lyrically, the bitterest composition on the record, this plays out like one of those glum Hollywood love stories you often hear. But as the song continues, you realize this track is based on the dysfunctional couple yet again. It slowly gyrates towards a darker tone with a confessional “Mother Mary” verse, which could be done without.
# 12 “Get It Over With”
Taking the tempo down a notch, this surreal track from James Fauntleroy and Brian Kennedy, is a ruminative song that finds Rihanna "wondering why you keep thundering / won't you just fuckin' rain / and get it over with." The airy vocals let you float away in the clouds (smoke) in a starry ballad.
# 13 “No Love Allowed”
Much on the lines of “Man Down”, it feeds on reggae influences that the Barbadian singer pays tribute to. Sweet and relaxing it highlights RiRi’s unique twang, stepping into Bob Marley-esque zone.
# 14 “Lost In Paradise”
Ending things on a somber note is this bouncy number that is drenched in a sea of electronica. The song is an unexpected end to a moody album. It is impressive, nonetheless.
RiRi seems to have acted out like a fumbling zygote experimenting in this solid project of hers, swaying between adult-contemporary to fuzzy ballads. The dance tracks aren’t as booming as her last releases. Yet, manages to stay attitudinal like all her other albums.
Sure, she has untouchable pop power, but this time she proves she is so much more malleable.“Unapologetic” sounds sonically exciting at times, and sure is. She’s still singing about love as a nasty game, and she’s still steering. Some might find the album rather dark, but it is her most convincing work ever.