Rihanna has myriad reasons to feel lucky. But hang around the slots for too long and you’re more likely to come out with empty pockets – even if you happen to be a multiple Guinness Book record holder by the age of 24.
Her illogical, albeit ambitious, 777 mini-tour (a press junket inside a jumbo jet that hit seven cities in seven days in anticipation of her seventh album) devolved into mutiny. Unapologetic devolves into derision, thanks in part to yet another duet with her former abuser, Chris Brown (“Nobody’s Business”). Rihanna has powerfully proclaimed herself the “only girl in the world.” It’s time she started believing in her worth.
In fact, on Unapologetic, it’s pretty hard to believe her at all. The Brown collabo is a publicity stunt that’s already an old hat, as he was also featured on her “Birthday Cake” remix from earlier in the year. Although the song lilts like the one it samples (Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel”), there is never an acceptable occasion to make light of assault and battery — least of all in a saccharine-sweet love song. Rihanna is young enough to be forgiven for silly Instagrams, but she has been around long enough that her immaturity is starting to detract from her indelible vocal gift.
The Barbadian native first revealed her melodic sensibility following in Jackson’s footsteps. She infused her hometown spice in every “mama-say”, “mama-sa”, and “ma-ma-ko-ssa” in 2007’s joyous “Don’t Stop The Music”. But the effervescence of her breakthrough Good Girl Gone Bad is lost to some hopeless place. Perhaps to the strip club on Unapologetic’s “Pour It Out”, as she sings: “All I see is dollar signs / Money on my mind … Who cares how you haters feel / Still got my money.”
The experimental composition of the song features minimalist scales that pinwheel around Rihanna’s dilated daze. She seems distracted, overwhelmed, even bored. But as long as she’s got her money, she can hire talents like David Guetta to produce two texturally layered – yet lyrically barren – songs, “Right Now” and “Phresh Out The Runway”. Rihanna has refined her vocal confidence in such a way that she knows exactly how to turn a few dubstep drops into veritable anthems. You can’t put a price tag on skill like that.
On Unapologetic, Rihanna sounds as defiant — or, as she might say, “cocky” — as ever. But she certainly gets a lot of help. The emotionally fragmented “Loveeee Song” is a touching duet with Atlanta-based rapper, Future. Rihanna appropriates the titillating chorus of Jeremih’s “Birthday Sex” (those salacious “I-ayayay”’s) into her dark, throaty range. However, “Jump” stands out as the album’s boldest song. The deadpan delivery is irresistible, even if the lyrics directly quote Ginuwine’s “Pony”. It’s requisite, raunchy Rihanna in the red-hot vein of Rated-R’s “Rude Boy” or “Hard”.
Elsewhere, she moans around Eminem (“Numb”) and fingers around a piano (“Stay”). “Love Without Tragedy” might’ve been a sleeper, except that the keyboard line sounds like the one on Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight”. And considering the subsequent song “Lost in Paradise”, I wonder: Still got that return ticket, Eddie?
The artwork of Unapologetic features a topless, glowering Rihanna with loopy letters over her taut physique. The art speaks to the album’s sound: readily appealing, but ultimately, two-dimensional. But with a healthy dose of self-respect – not luck – Rihanna has the ability to transform her manicured battle heroine persona into a career that’s truly durable.
Essential Tracks: “Jump”, “Pour It Out”