Well you couldn’t call Rihanna work shy. ‘TTT’ follows lightening bolt quickly from 2010’s ‘Loud’- that album found a newly flame haired Ri-Ri veering away from ‘Rated R’s hard edges into an eclectic rag bag of musical flavours from dancehall to rave and country.
Recent single ‘We Found Love’ was her clubbiest track yet, but we weren’t convinced – in fact I found it pretty underwhelming . We took a first listen to her sixth album and here are some initial impressions.
‘You Da One’
From the hand of Dr Luke comes this smile-inducing potion of dancehall meets Scandinavian pop nous. It makes us think of Ace Of Base, with its bouncey early 90s vibe. “Yes, I’m falling hard but there’s nothing wrong with that,” Rihanna sings, sounding, for what feels like the first time in ages, light and happy. There is a Whitney Houston reference in the chorus too (“Your love is my love / my love is your love,”) which is no bad thing.
‘Where Have You Been’
A flamenco guitar begins in typically dramatic style. “I’ve been looking for you babe/ Searching for you babe,” Rihanna sings in a lovelorn tone of voice. The synths pop up like flashes of primary colour, recalling ‘Only Girl In The World’ or Marina & The Diamonds’ ‘Radioactive’. Again there’s a 90s dance-pop flavour going on here – think Everything But The Girl’s ‘Missing’ or No Mercy’s ‘Where Do You Go’. That’s before things explode in the break down in a very ‘Armand Van Helden’ way.
‘We Found Love’
Sounds remarkably fitting coming after the ‘looking for love’ theme of ‘Where Have You Been’. In the album’s context ‘We Found Love’ fits better than it did as a stand alone single.
‘Talk That Talk’ (feat. Jay Z)
With the heavy beats and bass riff the back-to-basics r’n’b is noticeable after the Europop that has come before. Producer Dr Luke doesn’t miss a trick and there’s an echo of ‘Umbrella’ on the beats. Rihanna sings the lines “You will never have a woman like me. You will never have another like me,” and a nation thinks of Chris Brown.
‘Cockiness (Love It)’
A piano riff starts, quickly followed by a low-slung ‘A Milli’ style beat from hip-hop producer Bangladesh. Sonically this stands out from what’s coming before just by wont of it being so weird. “Boy I waaaaaaant you,” Rihanna squeaks like a malfunctioning robot. She’s spitting filth in the lyrics (“I love it when you eat it,” is one example) but that doesn’t detract from the mad, sonic excellence on display. The highlight so far.
Among spacey sounding synths, the Ri-bot makes an appearance again. “Cake, cake, cake,” she sings in the chorus. It’s probably safe to say that we’re not talking about a Victoria sponge here…). A wonderfully wacky production from The-Dream and Da Internz ensue, but it’s over much too soon (it lasts a mere 1.18).
‘We All Want Love’
It’s definitely time for a quick lie down after all that rump o’clock business. And so ‘We All Want Love’ finds us in an acoustic guitar frame of mind, with lots of ABBA-like harmonies going on. “We all want something to believe in,” Rihanna sings in a falsetto voice . One is reminded of Beyonce’s ‘Irreplaceable’ for the mix of acoustics and beats.
‘Drunk On Love’
Now this is a surprise. The xx’s ‘Intro’ (the go-to song for ‘emotional moments’ in most soaps / reality shows / news footage of war torn countries these days) is sampled in the background as Rihanna sings her lyrics about being merry on the elixir of l.o.v.e. (“I wear my heart on my sleeve / I’m drunk on love / nothing can sober me up,”). It’s sort of amazing to hear Romy and Olly doing their ‘ahaaaa’’s behind Rihanna’s emotive vocal.
‘Roc Me Out’
This one sounds like ‘Rude Boy’ thanks to Rihanna’s delivery of quite-similar-actually lines like: “Come on boy, I’m so ready,”. Also notable for the moment she drops the sexy act and admits “I’ll let you into a dirty secret / I just want to be in love,”. Oh Rihanna!
‘Watch n’ Learn’
The beat flips all over the place, mixing the shimmering pace of ‘Loud’’s ‘Complicated’ with a dancehall rhythm. There’s also an almost oriental keyboard sound that filters in between Supremes-like style harmonies. “Just because I can’t kiss back / Doesn’t mean you can’t kiss me back,” she sings rather mysteriously.
It’s The Big Ballad. “Wherever you’re going/I wanna go,” she sings over the air punching production of Ryan Tedder (although it’s actually courtesy of two others: Alex Da Kid and Ester Dean). These are beats and a chorus that would scare Celine Dion and there’s an almost country-ish piano in the bridge where she emotes “I don’t want to be the reason you don’t leave,” which makes ‘California King Bed’ looks demure by comparison.
With less sonic tricks up its sleeve than previous albums, ‘Talk This Talk’ feels ever so slightly laboured. On album number six, has Rihanna come unstuck?