Six albums in six years. Say what you want about Rihanna, but that is quite the feat.
Yet, it’s this very fact that has divided fans and critics alike. For, the Bajan star has crammed into her short career releases and achievements her predecessors have worked decades to amass.
Predictably, the 23 year old’s supporters lap up each annual effort. One after the other, after the other. However, growing ever wider is the sect of listeners who attribute her success to being little more than a record label puppet. Indeed, with few writing credits, a limited vocal range, and a “change-with-the-sway” sound, it’s hard to posit the contrary.
Whatever the reality, the singer remains a staple on the tongues of many. A sentiment well captured on the title of her sixth studio album ‘Talk That Talk’.
However, with ample doubt still surrounding Ri’s legitimacy, it quite – literally – is time for her to ‘walk that walk’.
After attending Def Jam’s London playback, That Grape Juice gives you the WORLD EXCLUSIVE first full review of the album everyone’s waiting for.
First things first, an all-star cast have been assmbled to craft the star’s latest batch of hits. Indeed, premium production pervades the 11-song set courtesy of The Dream, Dr Luke, Stargate, Ester Dean, Alex Da Kidd, to mention but a few. However, as will be uncovered, this overt approach to hit-hunting serves as the album’s biggest strength, yet dually as its Achilles Heel.
Opener ‘You Da One’ establishes a welcome shift in tempo from whimsical lead single ‘We Found Love’. A pulsating mid-tempo, the track is laced with enough “eh eh’s” and “ah ah’s” to resonate with radio. Yet producer Dr Luke pairs this with ample ‘edge’ by way of gritty production and an immense Drum n Bass bridge, both of which contrast the song’s lyrical sweetness. A solid step in the right direction.
What isn’t, however, is the singer’s hyper-reliance on ‘sex’. Thematically, the topic is omnipresent throughout the record – largely to its detriment. Bizarre numbers ‘Birthday Cake’ and ‘Cockiness (Love It)’ – perhaps best underscore this. Flagrantly provocative, the songs don’t exclusively fall short because of their lyrical looseness. No. Rather, they largely lack, as they simply aren’t a fraction as interesting as their root titles imply.
Indeed, Bangladesh’s ‘Cockiness’ boasts production that negatively highlights the difference between innovative and irrational; sounding altogether like construction noise. The cut also features the singer at her nasal worst, which in itself, speaks volumes. While, ‘Cake’ serves up faux-attitude (“I’mma make you my bitch”) and perhaps the most lyrically redundant hook on the entire LP (“cake, cake, cake, cake”). The latter of which is some achievement, as even the best tracks on the record find their choruses consisting of but a few words repeated over and over. Case, point, example, the Afro-Beats meets ‘Only Girl’ winner of a cut ‘Where Have You Been’.
The album is by no means a doomed affair; a fact driven all the way home by its epic standout track ‘Talk That Talk (ft. Jay-Z)’. Filthy, mucky, and gritty, the cut turns each of the aforementioned into a positive due to essentially being that good. ‘Talk’ – the older, raunchier sister of ‘Rude Boy’ – sees Rihanna re-engage with Caribbean diction, as she effortlessly rides Stargate’s cutting edge beat. However, the undeniable MVP here is Jay-Z who savagely attacks his 16 bar track opener with ear-grabbing ferocity. A “must be” future single, as is ‘Roc Me Out’ – which too borrows from the ‘Rude Boy’ template.
Elsewhere, tracks such as ‘Farewell’ and the drum-driven ‘Drunk on Love’ usher in shining moments vocally on an otherwise heavily processed set. Noted by even her fiercest critics for possessing a unique tone, these cuts extract the best qualities from her oft-misused instrument. Yet, in doing so, the production brilliance that defines much of the album is lost. A shame, as a healthy balance between vocal projection and production would have elevated such tracks above their album-track-at-best status.
A flash of such potential, however, is briefly realized in the form of ‘We All Want Love’. Easily the most Pop outright cut on the record, the NO ID number avoids generic territory with its anthemic chorus and Folk sensibilities. As such, the track renders a sound Rihanna would be well-advised to explore. That is, of course, if musical growth is on her agenda.
With ‘Talk That Talk’, then, the young starlet presents quite the conundrum. For, on one hand, the album embodies much of what’s wrong with today’s industry (over-processed, lyrically empty, and vocally unchallenged). Yet, on the other, shows baby-step progression and inklings of musical maturity. Slowly, but surely, ay?