[Music] Rihanna – Talk That Talk Review
Rihanna likes to get the last word. For the third year straight, she’s put out an album in the third week of November, and in all three cases, it’s been the last major pop release before Christmas.
This is highly unusual: major pop stars usually go more than a year in between high-profile albums. Singles from her 2010 set “Loud” are still lingering on the charts. Without giving anybody a chance to breathe, she is following up with today’s release of “Talk That Talk,” her sixth album and fourth in the last five years. This is worth mentioning because it contradicts the last remaining knock on her — that she’s a mere candy dispenser, generating hits for the kids whenever her overseers feel like bringing her out of the cupboard. Modern artists do not put out three big-budget, meticulously produced albums in three straight Novembers unless they’re driven. Rihanna, 23, is determined to establish herself as the world’s preeminent pop star, and while “Talk That Talk” never quite rises to the heights of “Loud,” it will do nothing to halt her ascendancy to that position.
As determined as she has been to sell records, she’s also engaged in a highly public effort to reframe her life — and particularly her sex life — as something she’s in charge of. In mid-2009, after her savage beating at the hands of then-boyfriend Chris Brown, the world thought of her as a victim. It is possible to see her last three LPs — “Talk,” “Loud” and 2009’s brooding “Rated R” — as a reaction against a public image that she didn’t choose, and that probably horrified her. Her expressions of desire feel scrupulously designed to establish her as an independent woman in command, inside and outside of the bedroom, and with each album, the language has become more sexually explicit.
The “talk” on “Talk That Talk” is sex talk, of course: Rihanna promises to show us her dirty secrets and demands that we give it to her all night, etc. “Cockiness (Love It)” turns on some truly awful puns, some of which you can figure out from the title. On “Watch N’ Learn,” she offers the following couplet: “Just because I can’t kiss back/Doesn’t mean you can’t kiss that.”
All of this is fun, or gross, depending on your tolerance level for absurd provocation and explicit lyrics. But as always, the censor-baiting sex talk is the least compelling thing about Rihanna.
“Watch N’ Learn,” a slinky bounce created by Hit-Boy (fresh off his work on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch the Throne”), is loaded with ideas for moving the party. “Cockiness” is a characteristically off-the-wall production by Shondrae “Bangladesh” Crawford, R&B’s zaniest hit-maker.
The title track pairs Rihanna with Jay-Z; they recreate some of the sweet-and-sour alchemy that made “Run This Town” a smash in 2009. “Birthday Cake” is pure, dumb, repetitive fun, and it’s over in a minute and a half. “Where Have You Been” is enlivened by Rihanna’s distinctive vocal approach, dispassionate enough to convey grim determination but sweet enough to serve as a believable come-on.
She’s got that character down pat. And as the runaway success of “We Found Love,” the album’s devastated first single and best song, demonstrates, the appetite for that character is enormous.
Eventually she’s going to have to introduce a few new wrinkles, because she’s played the sex angle about as hard as anybody can. But for now, she’s taking the tough girl act back to her usual perch on the top of the charts. Expect to hear songs from “Talk That Talk” on mainstream radio straight through 2012. And anybody betting against another blockbuster next November is a straight-up sucker.