Album review: Rihanna - 'Rated R' (Mercury)
Her torrid personal life firmly behind her, the R&B vixen comes out all guns blazing
Lead single [b]‘Russian Roulette’[/b] sets the agenda. [b]‘Rated R’[/b] is an LP about the balance of power and control. With only one other female songwriter here apart from Rihanna (Ester Dean on [b]‘Rude Boy’[/b]) it’s a startlingly masculine record – in sound and in attitude.
Sexuality is represented as aggressive, or reflective, but always passionate. On [b]‘Fire Bomb’[/b] Rihanna sings of burning her lover to death – just so he can feel as she does. Meanwhile, the [a]Justin Timberlake[/a]-penned [b]‘Cold Case Love’[/b] is a melancholic and mature farewell to a failed relationship. [b]‘Wait Your Turn’[/b] is an electric backstreet stiletto stab, where, eyebrow cocked, Rihanna sings “[i]I’m such a fucking lady/You don’t have to be afraid[/i]” and on [b]‘Rude Boy’[/b] she explicitly explains how she likes her men in bed. Even the ballad [b]‘Te Amo’[/b] (which harks back to [b]‘Music Of The Sun’[/b]) is sung from a male perspective, placing Rihanna as the male who can’t commit, rather than as the woman who is clinging to an unrealistic ideal.
Though [a]Jay-Z[a] wasn’t involved in the production of the record, his influence is tangible. On [b]‘Hard’[/b], Rihanna echoes his internal rhymes in her intonation – ‘‘[i]Brilliant, resilient, fan mail from 27million[/i]” – and her swagger on tracks such as [b]‘Rockstar 101’[/b] (featuring Slash!) owes a lot to Hova.
Despite the abundance of male influence on the record, from ex-boyfriend to songwriters to producers to mentors, Rihanna makes the sound her own, and fights back. On [b]‘G4L’[/b] she calls for an army of women in solidarity: “[i]Girls, girls, come on we ain’t done yet/Gotta lot to handle/We ain’t take over the world yet/Guns in the air[/i]”. Never exploited and totally in control, the sultry sexbomb of [b]‘Good Girl Gone Bad’[/b] is now a siren on the rocks – dangerous, self-aware and with a clan behind her. Empowered but not embittered, Rihanna turns her back on love.
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