Although my love for pop music – and r&b in particular – will never die, I admit that I’ve been disappointed lately in the material that’s been coming out of people whom the music industry insists are great artists. The production seems to get smoother, lazier, and less interesting, while the lyrics are increasingly banal – expressions of love, betrayal, girl power or just plain partying that give me a hangover just listening to them. And while Beyonce is the current Queen Of Having Nothing To Say, Rihanna is her imminent successor to that crown, and that’s actually somehow more disappointing to me – mainly because I feel like she’s a lot more interesting than Ms. Knowles, or at least comes from a background that should give her more to say.
Unfortunately, Rihanna’s new album Talk That Talk does nothing to suggest she’s more than a gorgeous extraterrestrial with a Trinidadian accent, indefatigable pop savvy and zero substance; rushing out a companion piece/ sequel to her 2010 blockbuster Loud, Rihanna offers a catchy collection of radio- and club-ready tracks that offer nothing more than superficial observations about life, love and the pursuit of happiness.
The album’s first single is “We Found Love,” and while its music video has attracted controversy for its depiction of a relationship self-destructing through drug use, Calvin Harris’ sweeping production hints at absolutely nothing but optimism and romance, especially since the chorus is literally nothing more than the repeated refrain “we found love in a hopeless place.” Meanwhile, Rihanna vamps it up on “Cockiness (Love It),” returning to “S&M” territory as she coos “suck my cockiness, swallow my persuasion,” albeit over a terrific reggae-tinged beat rather than an anthemic electropop instrumental. She gets even more raunchy on the (admittedly glorious) “Watch & Learn,” where she details all of the freaky things she can, will and wants to do, and expect you to do in return. That track, produced by Hit-Boy, who did Jay-Z and Kanye’s “N—-s In Paris,” continues to demonstrate a gift for rhythm patterns that are just unusual enough to stand out, at least in comparison to the rest of mainstream pop’s mostly four-four sensibilities.
While (again) she’s not covering much new territory – for her or anyone else – Rihanna’s latest is ultimately a modestly satisfying pop confection; she has a great ear for production (enlisting A-grade beatmakers like Calvin Harris and No-I.D.) and almost finds ways to make her conventional tales of love and loss sound fresh. “Talk That Talk” is a worthy successor to “Loud,” and is in fact in some ways superior, but what we’re waiting for is the album where she stops trying to satisfy the market and reaches towards something more serious. Mind you, no one wants her to stop singing songs like “Watch & Learn” – our libidos depend on them – but I don’t think there’s a person alive who wouldn’t like it if her pillow talk was as provocative as her sexual prowess, musically speaking.
CraveOnline Rating: 7.5