Let’s just forget about it. That’s what Rihanna must have been thinking when she got to work on “Loud”, the album that should have been the real follow-up to “Good Girl Gone Bad” (2007), which placed her among the select group of interplanetary pop divas for all audiences. She’s got a frenetic rhythm like Cheryl Cole going on—an album a year, and puts it out because it’s time—and this girl from Barbados had to get the bad taste out of her mouth from “Rated R” (2009) quickly—it was arguably a failed album that only managed to stay on the charts because “Rude Boy” was such a big hit. One has to admit that she has been able to overcome the fiasco (although I confess that as a figure in the star system, she isn’t really my type): if twelve months ago she gave us a sinister, unbearable album where she took pleasure in playing the victim on account of the abuse that she received at the hands of social pariah Chris Brown, “Loud” represents the other side of the coin. It’s like a buffet meal that can please both the American market –a lot of R&B and urban rhythms with collaborations like that of the ever-present Nicki Minaj on “Raining Men”– and the European one, which always tends more towards dance music and pounding basses. So we can be happy with the result and, while we’re at it, be less embarrassed by that dyed-red corncob hairdo that she’s sporting now.
“Only Girl (in the World)”, produced by the Norwegian team Stargate –or, the bothersome fly that most irritates David Guetta, the ones responsible for “Don’t Stop The Music” or “Rude Boy”– is a song that already lets us know something is up. What is Rihanna trying to pull now? To be a social-climbing diva who barks like a dog on heat over progressive rhythms, in the line of the current Kelis or Kelly Rowland? After listening to the whole album, we realise (ok, except for songs like “S&M”, with a hot sample of “Sexy Bitch”) that our suppositions were wrong and that the rest of the album has nothing to do with that. If not, listen carefully to “What’s My Name” –the eighth number 1 on the Billboard charts that Rihanna has achieved in the United States at the young age of 22: that has a lot of merit– or “Cheers (Drink to that),” a fun ode to alcoholism that would have been perfect for the scruffy Ke$ha, co-written by that artistic cadaver who goes by the name of Avril Lavigne, since it borrows a fragment of the Canadian skater’s “I’m with You”.
If “Rated R” suffered from having too many heavy-handed ballads with autobiographical overtones and didn’t contribute anything at all to our lives, “Loud” at least raises the melodramatic standard to a higher level. And although at times it seems like a spin-off of Beyoncé’s “If I Were A Boy”, “California King Bed” is more than worthy, as is the half-time “Complicated”, one of the most pleasant surprises we’re going to find here. Rihanna, when she wants to, is a first-class cheat, takes advantage of the gold mine of “Love The Way You Lie” (in a duet with Eminem) providing the female perspective, re-writing the verses, and taking credit for the merits. However we may hate to say it, this second part of the song is a great close for an album that only has two cuts that it could do without.
This is the case of “Man Down”–or “how to believe you’re a reggae singer imitating a voice in an embarrassing way”– and “Skin” (which in its day was already a discard from “Rated R,” so you can just imagine). Rihanna is coming back in style, through the front door. Now that the vocoders are shaking with fear, after the recent entry of our beloved Britney Spears into the recording studio to start her new album, the young woman who introduced herself to the world by sampling Soft Cell in “SOS”can breathe easy. The wounds of the last year have finally healed. So, since deep down I really do have a heart, I am honestly happy for her. Sergio del Amo