Barbadian-born pop superstar Rihanna is back this week with her fifth full-length studio album, "Loud," and with it comes a return to top form from her "Good Girl, Gone Bad" days. In fact, on lead track "S&M," the rousing kick-off track to the album, she even pays homage to her biggest album to date: "I may be bad, but I'm perfectly good at it," she sings. It's a playful sexy Rihanna at her best (think a more sexual "Shut Up and Drive")... and it sets the tone for a collection of fun tracks, which should gain back any fans that she may have lost from 2009's foray into a different sound with "Rated R."
Not to say that "Rated R" was by any means a disaster. It still wielded a slew of #1 singles... a couple of which this reviewer actually enjoyed. It just wasn't an epic album of the magnitude of Rihanna's third studio album, whose lead song, "Umbrella," was the biggest thing in the world when it came out in 2007. "Rated R" was Rihanna's 'I'm expressing myself' album, following her 2009 domestic violence incident with ex-boyfriend Chris Brown. It was, in many ways, a similar departure to Kelly Clarkson's 2007 album, "My December."
It's rare for an artist to come out with two full-length albums a short one year away from each other (albeit, Britney did it in 2007 / 08 with "Blackout" and "Circus," and the Black Eyed Peas are doing it in 2009 / 10 with "The E.N.D." and "The Beginning"). "Loud" is certainly closer to "Good Girl, Gone Bad" than to "Rated R," but it's unlikely to hit the same highs of the former. Then again, second single "What's My Name?" (featuring Drake) just rocketed to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, dethroning Ke$ha's "We R Who We R" (which had debuted at #1 just the week before). So, perhaps this album is going to be rather huge after all?!
The bottom line - "Loud" is filled with radio-friendly hits -- including the currently ubiquitous lead single, "Only Girl (In The World)," which itself seemed to emanate from the title of Rihanna's 2010 "Last Girl On Earth" tour title. Track 3, "Cheers (I Drink To That)," is currently my favorite track on the album. The soon-to-be-everywhere drinking anthem successfully samples Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You" in a catchy round, which will make even the most hardened critic crack a smile. Track 4, "Fading," is a down-tempo track which instantly reminded me of her 2008 hit "Hate That I Love You." It's another instant radio smash for RiRi.
So, the first five tracks on "Loud" = Five huge radio hits... Got it? Good. Moving on...
... and the hits keep coming. Track 6, "California King Bed," is a love-song ballad as lovely as any ever sung by Rihanna. Track 7, "Man Down," is her "taking you back to the islands" reggae-sounding track of the album - it's probably not a big single, but could become an underground hit with its minor homage to Bob Marley's "I Shot The Sherriff." Track 8, "Raining Men," is the requisite collaboration with Nicki Minaj (after all, if you don't have a song on your album featuring Nicki, who are you?!). Surprisingly, I think it's one of the weaker tracks on the album. It's going to be exciting to see whom exactly Nicki features on her own album, when it finally drops on November 23.
The jury's still out for me with regards to Track 9, "Complicated" - at first listen, it didn't sound to me like a huge hit, but I could see this one flying under the radar with folks. It could end up catching on and becoming an anthem. It's different sounding, and is probably to date, the track that best features Rihanna's vocal range and ability - it's certainly ripe for remixes. Track 10, "Skin," is sort of a quiet coda before the album's big closing track, which is ...
... Track 11, "Love The Way You Lie, Part II" featuring Eminem - which is a surprisingly worthy and successful follow-up to the song of the summer of 2010. Similar enough to, and yet different enough from, its predecessor, the song presents the female perspective from the abusive relationship tale begun in Part I. It's really the perfect complement, and in many ways, can be seen as bringing full circle closure to a chapter of Rihanna's own life which she is no doubt more than ready to put behind her at this point in time.
Overall, "Loud" is an enjoyable journey from start to finish. Rihanna fans, old and new, should rejoice in its release. It's rare nowadays that our top divas deliver such sweet perfection. When they do, it's a great day in pop culture.
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