Album review: Rihanna – ‘Rated R’ (Mercury)

Her torrid personal life firmly behind her, the R&B vixen comes out all guns blazing

Before we begin, let’s get this straight: this is not a record about [a]Chris Brown[/a]. It is a record influenced by Chris Brown, but it’s not about him. In a recent interview with Radio 1, [a]Rihanna[/a] explained that going into the studio “was my peace and… my place to vent.” See that possessive adjective? This album is as much about her and not about him as its title suggests.

Lead single ‘Russian Roulette’ sets the agenda. ‘Rated R’ is an LP about the balance of power and control. With only one other female songwriter here apart from Rihanna (Ester Dean on ‘Rude Boy’) it’s a startlingly masculine record – in sound and in attitude.

Sexuality is represented as aggressive, or reflective, but always passionate. On ‘Fire Bomb’ Rihanna sings of burning her lover to death – just so he can feel as she does. Meanwhile, the [a]Justin Timberlake[/a]-penned ‘Cold Case Love’ is a melancholic and mature farewell to a failed relationship. ‘Wait Your Turn’ is an electric backstreet stiletto stab, where, eyebrow cocked, Rihanna sings “I’m such a fucking lady/You don’t have to be afraid” and on ‘Rude Boy’ she explicitly explains how she likes her men in bed. Even the ballad ‘Te Amo’ (which harks back to ‘Music Of The Sun’) 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 ‘Hard’, Rihanna echoes his internal rhymes in her intonation – ‘‘Brilliant, resilient, fan mail from 27million” – and her swagger on tracks such as ‘Rockstar 101’ (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 ‘G4L’ she calls for an army of women in solidarity: “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”. Never exploited and totally in control, the sultry sexbomb of ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ 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.

Ailbhe Malone

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