Myth states that the third time is the charm but Rihanna took seven albums to find her voice, thus proving that the number is lucky, blessed and highly favoured. Indeed, after years of nasal groaning and shameless laziness, the world’s most famous Bajan has finally taken a step in the right direction with her latest offering, ‘Unapologetic’.
When people try to pick the least offensive of Rihanna’s album, the lyrically solid ‘Rated R’ and the radio-friendly ‘Loud’ often lead the pack. Yet, as a result of her deplorable attempts at singing on the former and the shallow content of the latter, neither effort reflects the work of an artist with the potential to have a lasting presence in this industry. Fortunately, ‘Unapologetic’ captures the best elements of both albums.
Emancipating herself from vocal nasality, Rihanna inhales a lungful of oxygen instead of cigarette smoke and reveals the true potential of her unique voice on ‘Unapologetic’. Building from a warm and silky introduction to a powerful climax, she absolutely soars on the record’s best vocal showing, ‘What Now’.
Other impressive performances include ‘Lost in Paradise’ and the lone deluxe edition cut, ‘Half of Me’. Still, as we maintain a firm grip on reality, Rihanna doesn’t exhibit the type of complex vocal gymnastics on ‘Unapologetic’ that will make Aretha Franklin nervous enough to lose a few hundred pounds in an effort to relaunch her career. Instead, Rihanna simply ascends to the level of a singer who proves that her talent is worthy of our attention.
Nonetheless, ‘Unapologetic’ wouldn’t be a Rihanna album without a few glaring missteps and there are more fumbles on this disc than in a Mariah Carey dance routine. ‘Pour it Up’ is a blatant rehash of Juicy J’s club smash ‘Bandz a Make Her Dance’, on which Rihanna lazily boasts about everything from her money to her fragrance as she remains unbothered by the collapsing world economy.
Remember Ginuwine’s breakthrough single, ‘Pony’? Well, Rihanna wastes a sample of that song on ‘Jump’ by surrounding the classic hook with forgettable lyrics and lacklustre sex appeal. On the bright side, the production – provided by StarGate and Chase & Status – prevents the track from completely ruining the legacy of the 1990s stripper anthem.
“…Rihanna only acts as a mouthpiece; a puppet with a songwriter’s hand up her ever so beautiful backside.”
Perhaps, the real issue on ‘Unapologetic’ is Rihanna’s imitation of her songwriters. Contrary to popular belief, the ability to clone a demo of a song is not a marker of skill. Honestly, although many of the best singers of our time are not writers, they make each song their own with their unique interpretations. In Rihanna’s case, she only acts as a mouthpiece; a puppet with a songwriter’s hand up her ever so beautiful backside.
Don’t agree with that assessment? If not then ask yourself why Rihanna’s “rapping” sounds so similar to that of The-Dream on ‘Phresh Off the Runway’ – a song that would have undoubtedly been better performed by Beyonce with her mastery of Hip-Hop-styled phrasing. Unfortunately for Rihanna, however, it is quite difficult to transform a Bajan accent to that of an Australian and she gets lost somewhere off the coast of New Zealand on the Sia-penned ‘Diamonds’.
Thankfully, Rihanna provides a welcome throwback to her West Indian heritage via the song ‘No Love Allowed’. For years I have been begging, pleading and praying for Rihanna to follow in the footsteps of Tanya Stephens and this tune reaffirms the belief that Reggae music is her true calling.
Also on the more pleasant side of ‘Unapologetic’ is the far too short ‘Love Without Tragedy’, which is a beautifully crafted play on Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ (you thought I wouldn’t notice the similarity, huh?). The song appears as a medley with equally great ‘Mother Mary’ but they could have easily been extended if the dreary
interlude ‘Get It Over With’ was omitted.
Last on the list of ‘Unapologetic’ songs are ‘Loveeeeeee Song’, which features Future also known as Rihanna in ten years if she continues smoking, the ill-advised ‘Nobody’s Business’ with Chris Brown and the typical Dance/Pop cut ‘Right Now’ via the increasingly redundant David Guetta. Of course, we can’t ignore the bass-heavy ‘Numb’, despite the fact that it entails the weakest guest verse of Eminem’s entire career. “I’m the butt police and I’m looking at your rear rear rear,” he raps as I scan TMZ to see if he has relapsed into is drug habit.
In conclusion, ‘Unapologetic’ is far from a masterpiece but it is definitely an improvement by Rihanna. Easily her best work to date, the record is represents an act who is slowly finding a balance between commercial viability and artistic integrity. This album isn’t a classic but it certainly helps us to forget ‘Talk That Talk’. Well, almost.
Standout tracks: ‘No Love Allowed’, ‘Loveeeeeee Song (Ft. Future)’, ‘Diamonds’, ‘Stay (Mikky Ekko)’ and ‘Love Without Tragedy’
Weakest track: ‘Phresh Off the Runway’
Possible singles: ‘Lost in Paradise’, ‘Loveeeeeee Song (Ft. Future)’, ‘Right Now (Ft. David Guetta)’ and ‘Jump’
The Lava Lizard Rating: 3/5 Stars