Album: Talk That Talk
Label: Def Jam
Not that I’d ever hop on the ‘oh won’t someone please think of the children’ bandwagon, but Rihanna’s influence on the younger peeps actually concerns me. Even more so now I’ve had to listen to a whole album at once. When I was growing up, I had the Spice Girls to look at. The odd dodgy revealing outfit aside, they were perfectly respectable icons, preaching about girl power and loving your mum and even safe sex (a message fantastically buried in a Christmas song). The youth of today have Rihanna, who essentially wants to shag everything around her and, memorably, was asked the other month to put more clothes on by a Northern Irish farmer whose field she was using to shoot her latest video. I’m not prudish, but is there really something so bad about wanting your pop stars to wear some clothes? Really? Some corners of the internet (I’m looking at you tumblr) might call this thinking anti-feminist. But if that’s what feminism has become in this day and age, I’m horrified.
The gaudy sexuality Rihanna displays is, at this stage, so forceful as to be ludicrous. Is it some kind of empowerment kick after the whole Chris Brown saga, or are insiders really that desperate to sell records? Is it all an attempt to distract us from the fact her voice sounds like a blunt chainsaw in heat? Talk That Talk is a competent, if banal, offering from this most ubiquitous of pop stars, replete with all the lurid imagery and club beats you’d anticipate. Its catchier songs are decent, its explicit songs woeful, and her emphasis on disarming sex appeal actually devalues the odd song that’s just alright. It all gets lost in the X-rated mire.
“You Da One,” aside from inexplicably taking half an hour to play on my laptop (honestly), makes for a laborious start. It’s repetitious (shock horror) and has quite a dull, throbbing beat – quite possibly the aural equivalent of a migraine. It sets out to be menacing and falls spectacularly short, unaided by the fact that Rihanna’s voice is about as listenable as having Janice from Friends chortle in your ear at maximum volume for hours at a time.
However, “Where Have You Been” is much better. It’s overtly catchier, her voice is autotuned down to minimise annoyance, and all the instrumental trimmings have been filtered heavily through a prism of samples and programming for maximum club impact. This has all the ingredients to be a finely-wrought guilty pleasure for your nights out, so the album isn’t entirely unworthy of your time. “We Found Love” was markedly spiced up by Calvin Harris, and is also fairly enjoyable. Rihanna sings with some form of muted loving tone – this was, presumably, incepted as a ballad and then given the party time makeover. The verses add a softer side to what would otherwise be standard, ear-pillaging club noise, and the Harris touch ensures it never loses at least basic appeal.
Next is “Talk that Talk.” You know how Rihanna likes to talk about sex? That’s what she means here. The lyrics will undoubtedly be a joyful discovery for any elder who has to accompany a youngling to a show. Musically (I’m choking back a snigger in using that term), it comes down more on the r’n’b side of the fence, with a steady methodical rhythm. It’s not as immediately compelling as the club anthems which precede it but it does have something of an insidious effect, and its blanker palette actually makes it more accessible. “Cockiness (Love It)” is exactly as bad as you’d expect given the title. Rihanna succeeds remarkably well in crafting a magnificently awful song, full of graphic imagery that’ll either leave you giggling like a schoolgirl or rolling your eyes. Or just ignoring it all and dancing obliviously. Whichever.
“Birthday Cake” is also mind-bogglingly eloquent in its lyrical content; she says ‘cake’ repeatedly over a kaleidoscopic scrapheap of computer-generated sound. It has some vacant appeal but is entirely devoid of class and merit. “We All Want Love” is her first attempt to sound wholesome. A guitar, presumably wrestled kicking and screaming from its rightful place, lurks terrified in the background while heavy percussion and soporific singing steer the song through the motions. She sings longing about wanting someone to hold when it’s cold, which is frankly a little alarming when the prior song features requests that someone lick icing off her birthday cake.
“Rock Me Out” is one of those fashionable wannabe rock rip-offs occasionally popular with vacuous pop starlets, though in fairness, its slick beats and sparkly sound effects make it listenable club fodder. “Farewell” is a melting pot of genres – wayward synth-like sounds, an overpowering bassline, and melancholic poppier refrains all collide for a competent if uninspiring tune. The sound is big and intensive and she laments someone’s departure, warbling about how much she’ll miss them. Pity the same can’t be said of the album.
Review written by Grace Duffy
View original article on Under the Gun Review.