Another year, another Rihanna album. The latest, Unapologetic, is more collaborative, less danceable and speaks more to the singer’s consistency than it does to her creativity.
Ever since Rihanna shimmied out of Barbados and onto MTV with “Pon de Replay” in 2005, she orchestrated her commercial ascent by doing two things: culling other musicians’ best tracks and using her sexual frankness as her great confessional topic. On Unapologetic, Rihanna seems to have discarded the allure of the latter — any flickers of sexiness or verve are extinguished by sterile delivery. In “Jump,” Rihanna recites an unconvincing invitation in her preferred register (monotone, staccato): “Ride it, my pony / my saddle is waitin’ / come and jump on it.”
More disappointing is the album’s sordid crux, aptly titled “Nobody’s Business,” a collaboration with former assailant Chris Brown that samples Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me You Feel.” While the schmaltzy lyrics verge on the comical in their gross misrepresentation of the duo’s relationship (“Your love is perfection … Let’s make out in this Lexus”), to his credit, Chris Brown delivers an uncanny imitation of MJ’s trademark yelps.
Though far from thematically cohesive, Unapologetic has remedied much of Rihanna’s conspicuous lack of technical skill with songs like her lead single, “Diamonds,” and the soft ballad “Stay,” a masterfully blended duet with Mikky Ekko.
But alas, such tracks are infrequent. “Numb,” in which “I’m going numb” loops amid grating beats and synthesizers, features an atypically underwhelming Eminem performance and reminds us that lyrics have never been Rihanna’s forte (recall her most memorable: “ella ella, ay ay ay”).
In her compulsion to generate an album per year (Unapologetic marks the seventh in eight years), Rihanna has more in common with the Energizer Bunny than the Playboy variety she masqueraded as in her S&M video. Her feverish output amounts to a fear of silence — and it has exposed a fatal tic: the implicit worry that, if she stops, we might forget her.
Contact Neha Kulsh at [email protected]