Should Rihanna be Unapologetic?
Rihanna’s insistence upon releasing an album a year continues with the release of Unapologetic, her seventh studio album. After the almost abysmal Talk That Talk (“We Found Love” and “Drunk On Love” excluded) expectations were not high. News came the recording had begun in the summer with the album’s release later this year. This rather quick recording process did not give me confidence that this album would be worth a listen, until the totally and utterly brilliant lead single was released.
“Diamonds”, written by songwriter du-jour Sia, is a stomping ballad, produced by Benny Blanco and StarGate. It is totally amazing. It is also not a “hands in the air” rave-a-thon. Rihanna seemed to conquer the mid-tempo ballad with such force that my expectations seemed to be wrong. It is then, with such much regret that the album did not live up to the lead single. In fact the album is disastrously bad.
The album opens with the horrendous “Phresh of the Runway”, a song challenged not just in melody but also in spelling. The first five tracks (apart from “Diamonds”) follow this same pattern: disturbed production with minimal melody. The stripper anthem, “Pour It Up”, saps any energy that a possible visit to a strip club might give a punter. Rather the listener feels that they have entered a dark, dank club, with illegal immigrants being forced to strip for money.
Redemption occurs with “Jump”, the albums halfway point, a dub-infused, klaxon of a song. This song features some of Rihanna’s best lyrics ever: “If you want it, lets do it, ride it, my pony, my saddle, is waiting, come on, jump on it”. As horse analogies go, this is probably one the best to ever happen in pop music ever. Good work all round. The Guetta-by-numbers rave-a-thon “Right Now” is the sort of Rihanna song that has the gays going wild; tank tops off, poppers out, and so on.
Following all this hard-core Rihanna skanking, the album takes a slightly more interesting route. Rihanna’s ballads, in the past, have been shit (“California King Bed” – Seriously?). It seems that Rihanna knows this and has therefore attempted to redesign the balled with a massive Rihanna-step chorus in “What Now”. The results are not ideal. Somehow, however, Rihanna’s pulls it out of the bag with “Stay”, which features adult contemporary swooner, Mikky Ekko. There is something haunting about the verses that just work.
It is possible for one song to ruin a whole album and “Nobody’s Business” does just that. The choice to duet with Chris Brown, the abusive ex-boyfriend who beat you up and turned your face into a puffer-fish, was always going to controversial. Would it help if the song were actually good? Probably not. The fact that song is shit doesn’t help. The lyrics don’t even make sense. “You’ll always be mine, sing it to world”, Rihanna croons before stating, and “it ain’t nobody’s business”. Well, if it isn’t anyone’s business why shove it on an album that millions of people are going to buy. There is also the ethical decision of Camp Rihanna to to allow such a duet to happen. Rihanna says about the song: “‘Nobody’s Business’ is basically the way I look at everything regarding my personal life. You know, even though you have to witness it as being documented at every second, it still is mine… this is mine at this point.” However, her choice to go on television and talk about being a victim of domestic violence means that it isn’t just your business anymore. It means that you have implicated yourself as an example to others also suffering. By going on to duet with your former abuser, on a love song no less, gives totally the wrong message.
It is hard to continue listening to the album after this atrocious rubbish, and indeed the following song “Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary”, a Police influenced car-crash of song, doesn’t do much to increase one’s appetite. Neither does the terribly titled “Get It Over With”. Actually Rihanna, I am starting to feel like I want to get this over with. Suddenly, the world sparkles. If one were looking for “Man Down” part two then “No Love Allowed” is it. An island influenced piece of pop magic. This is what Rihanna does best. “Lost in Paradise” is also amazing. Rihanna’s competence at mid-tempo pop songs shines through with effective results. Similarly the deluxe album track, “Half Of Me”, penned by non-other than “Read All About It” chanteuse Emeli Sandé, works quite well.
It is hard to get over the albums disastrous songs, and questionable ethics. In my case I found it too hard. Certain parts “shine like a diamond”, but what Rihanna has to realise is that 3-4 months is not enough time to create an album worth creating. It is pop-by-numbers, with certain flares or brilliance. The good does not out weigh the bad, and whilst this was forgivable with Talk That Talk due to the staying power of “We Found Love”, there is no such redemption here. In fact what I feel is anger and disappointment, not only at the quality of the record, but also at the lack of ethical responsibility. I know one should separate the personal from the professional, but in celebrity culture that is very hard, especially in music. Who ever let her duet with Chris Brown needs their head checking.
Hopefully 2013 will see Rihanna take a break and not release an album (and stay away from Chris Brown).
Unapologetic is released on the 19th November.