“S&M” sets the tone for the entire album and tells you that this is not a repeat of Rated R. “S&M” is all dance and pure pop with Rihanna retaining a bit of her sensual provocateur image she developed with the last album. “I may be bad but I’m perfectly good at it; sex in the air, I don’t care, I like the smell of it – sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me” Rihanna sings over a chorus of “na na na” and chanting of “S&M” in the background. Rihanna is definitely channeling her dance/pop roots from the A Girl Like Me and Good Girl Gone Bad eras. It’s light, fun, carefree and danceable – everything we missed from Rihanna’s last album. “What’s My Name?” follows and features Drake. To be honest, Drake’s “rap” (if you can call it that) adds nothing to the track but Rihanna’s singing and role of seductress on the track makes it for a slow groove dancefloor hit. Where “S&M” is pure pop, this is more hip-hop/club pop and has the synthesizers and bouncy-techno backing that sets it apart from a majority of songs on the radio today. “Cheers (Drink to That)” starts off with a sample chorus of “yeah” and features Rihanna’s cautioning the listener on letting haters and negativity get them down. This is one of those songs you wouldn’t necessarily dance to but would want playing at your party or one you’d sing with a group at karaoke. She definitely brings a Carribean/Reggae vibe to her vocals on this track.
“Fading” is a ballad where Rihanna dismisses her now former love singing “Cause I opened up my eyes and I finally realized – today – today – it’s too late – you’re fading away.” It’s a catchy pop ballad with the signature “love’s gone sour” theme performed with a dance beat. I preferred this track to one of the album’s later ballads that’s more slow moving and drags on a bit. “Only Girl (In the World)” is the dance/club track produced by David Guetta that really hit the reset button on Rihanna’s music career following the poorly received Rated R album and its singles. It’s all dance with synthesizers and an epic, foot thumping, body rocking beat and features has Rihanna making many pleas and invites for her lover to make her his one and only priority in the world. It’s easy to see why this song was chosen as this album’s lead single as it definitely is an about face to the music and style of Rated R. “California King Bed” is another ballad and is a bit slower than “Fading” and less dance. It has moments or rock woven into its chorus while the main lyrics are mainly acoustic. It’s not at all a bad track but style wise it feels a bit out of step since a majority of the album is dance-oriented.
“Man Down” is a noisy track that’s a bit reggae. Rihanna sings “oh mama, I just shot a man down” and about how now she’s a criminal. Style wise it’s different enough to get your attention but quality wise, I felt it was completely left field and the dark subject matter reminded me a lot of what made the Rated R tracks unappealing to many. “Raining Men” is the album’s second collaboration, this time featuring Nicki Minaj. This is a fun track that may remind some a bit of the Beyonce/Lady Gaga track “Video Phone”. Rihanna and Minaj sing of their bountiful selection of men and unwillingness to compromise or settle for just anything or anybody. “Complicated” is another ballad track and probably the best that the album has to offer. The lyrics are pretty simple and sets up the push and pull many experience in relationships and has a bubbly synthesized instrument backing but it offers up a great vocal performance. “Skin” is a mood-setter song and is all sex and seduction. Again, while it is different it bore me a bit and felt a bit repetitive. The album closes out with a reworked “Love The Way You Lie” featuring Eminem. This version isn’t as hip-hop as the original and is a bit softer than the original track. This version is the same song from the female perspective. Unlike Eminem’s version, the lyrics of this version is a bit forgettable and doesn’t really pick up until Eminem enters toward the end and adds some attitude and bite to the track.
Kudos to Rihanna for dropping the overly dark and hardcore tones and look of Rated R and for picking up a dance beat on this album. I felt the first half of the album is definitely stronger than the later half. As the album goes onward, the tracks get less pop and dance and start to drift back into the darker, moodier territory of Rated R, thus becoming less interesting overall. Rihanna is at her best when she’s in the pop and dance realm loses a bit of her edge and uniqueness when she’s trying (often too hard) to be overtly sexual or dark and violent. Still, I suspect many will prefer the music of this album over the music of the last album.
Listen to These: “S&M”, “Complicated”, “Cheers (Drink to That)”, “What’s My Name?”
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