When will Rihanna’s ninth album arrive? As we continue to hope and pray that it finally lands this year, the superstar herself continues to troll us with promises of new songs dropping soon. We’d give up and move on if it was anyone lesser than our Bajan queen but, over the last 16 years, she’s proven that she’s more than worth the wait. While we keep everything crossed Riri finally rewards our (im)patience before the end of 2021, let’s take a look back at her albums so far. Which one will come out on top?
8‘A Girl Like Me’ (2006)
For her second album, Rihanna didn’t stray too far from the sound of predecessor ‘Music Of The Sun’. In fact, the whole record felt like she was following the same blueprint – open with an undeniable banger (‘SOS’), throw in some more understated but still good songs (‘We Ride’, ‘Unfaithful’), and top it off with slower cuts that unfortunately don’t meet the bar set by the rest of the tracklist. One of the later, ‘Final Goodbye’, is most notable for a vocal melody that isn’t a million miles away from Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’ but, sadly, doesn’t come close in the cheesy classic stakes.
7‘Music From The Sun’ (2005)
Rihanna shot out of the gates all the way back in 2005 with ‘Music Of The Sun’, a debut album that – as the title suggests – captured the sun-kissed sounds of her native Barbados. Reggaeton beats and dancehall swagger co-exist alongside pop and R&B, cementing a summery first step from a then-future superstar. The tracklist boasts Riri’s brilliant debut single ‘Pon de Replay’ and gems like ‘Let Me’ and ‘Rush’, but it’s let down by some dreary ballads, the likes of which had a habit of cropping up in the star’s early work, acting as speed bumps for her records’ momentum.
6‘Rated R’ (2009)
“Ladies and gentlemen, to those among you who are easily frightened we say turn away now,” commands a booming voice on the opening track of ‘Rated R’. “To those of you who think they can take it, we say welcome to the madhouse.” Rihanna’s fourth album isn’t as spooky as that message might suggest, but it did take her to some dark territory she previously hadn’t explored.
This was the record where Riri went rock – and even enlisted the help of Slash to do so on ‘Rockstar 101’. Between the distorted guitars and noodling solos, though, there’s still flashes of her more familiar sound, best exhibited on the Caribbean flavour of ‘Rude Boy’, which remains one of her best songs to date.
5‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ (2007)
The first half of 2007’s ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ and its ‘Reloaded’ repackage a year later) lulls you into a false sense of security. It’s packed wall-to-wall with absolute jams that make you feel like you’re in for a flawless listen. It begins with the ultimate pop classic ‘Umbrella’ then struts through the squelchy, sexy ‘Push Up On Me’, the club-ready ‘Don’t Stop The Music’, the hell hath no fury energy of ‘Breakin’ Dishes’ and the revving rush of ‘Shut Up And Drive’.
Unfortunately, though, that streak doesn’t continue through the whole thing, coming to a screeching halt with the Ne-Yo collab ‘Hate That I Love You’. It’s proof that it’s better to sprinkle the best songs across an album than cram them all in early – even if you add a belter like the deliciously dark ‘Disturbia’ at the end when you reissue it the following year.
Over her career, Rihanna’s done it all – rock, R&B, pop, reggae, EDM, hip-hop and much more. On her seventh album, she shifted gears once again, dipping a toe into the left field. Of course, ‘Unapologetic’ features big mainstream-pleasing tracks like the euphoric ‘Diamonds’ or the heartbreaking ‘Stay’, but they collide with the likes of ‘Numb’, which keeps things thrillingly lowkey and experimental, and the ‘80s new wave double act of ‘Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary’.
In this album’s lyrics, Riri also took two paths – celebrating popping bottles, racking lines and general hedonism, and struggling with a toxic relationship. She’s been unfairly criticised for lacking emotion in her voice, but in the latter songs, there’s feeling in abundance.
3‘Talk That Talk’ (2011)
Here’s the bad gal Riri we know and love. In 2011, Rihanna was more ready to party than ever if ‘Talk That Talk’ is anything to go by – a record that felt built for soundtracking nights in dark corners of sticky, sweaty clubs. As well as being prime for a big night out, it also found her dialling up the sexiness to new heights – the one-two punch of ‘Cockiness (Love It)’ and ‘Birthday Cake’, followed up later by ‘Watch n’ Learn’, is pure naughtiness and you can hear her revelling in it as she sings.
‘Talk That Talk’ feels more coherent than a lot of Riri’s albums, even if parts do sound a little dated now. It’s also the point where she truly got to grips with slow songs and learnt how to make them good – try listening to the poignant ‘Farewell’ and not feel your tear ducts getting full.
Before her fifth album ‘Loud’ was released, the vice president of Def Jam compared it to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, adding that it contained “no fillers”. A bold claim! The truth didn’t totally line up with that declaration, but ‘Loud’ is definitely one of Rihanna’s most iconic albums. It’s full of bangers – ’S&M’, ‘Only Girl In The World’, ‘What’s My Name?’ – and big name collaborations (Drake, Nicki Minaj, Eminem). Unlike the Def Jam VP said, it does contain some filler – ‘California King Bed’ is bland acoustic pop and ‘Complicated’’s a touch mawkish – but Riri makes up for it in the siren-laced crime thriller ‘Man Down’.
And so we come to the pièce de résistance of Rihanna’s career so far. ‘Anti’ – her latest album, although hopefully not for much longer – is a chef’s kiss of a record, grooving hypnotically from sublime song to sublime song. It’s her first album with no skips and, if it did end up being her last release, would be a brilliant thing to go out on (but Riri, if you’re reading, please give us at least one more).
There’s her patois-filled reunion with Drake on ‘Work’, the unexpected but excellent Tame Impala cover ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’ and the slinky ‘Needed Me’. Best of all, though, is ‘Love On The Brain’, when Rihanna pours out her heart in her most emotional performance yet, crafting something that’s perfect for wailing along to when you’re heartbroken or spinning around your room to when you’re in the throes of new love. Genius.