by Parker Bruce
Full disclosure: Rihanna is probably tied with Beyoncé as my favorite pop star. That’s why it breaks my heart to say her new album, “Talk That Talk,” is essentially “Loud” Part 2. Except it’s a lesser album than “Loud.” “Loud” had great singles: “Only Girl (In the World),” “What’s My Name?,” “S & M,” and “Cheers (Drink to That),” but something felt a little off and absent. “We Found Love” acts as the “Only Girl” of the album. But “We Found Love” is something more. It’s the most compelling, human song she’s ever recorded. “We Found Love” darts and pounces; the build is similar to that in “Only Girl.” “We Found Love” comes off as a lark when you hear the rest of the album.
Second single, “You Da One,” fills the “What’s My Name?” role as it rides low. It doesn’t reach the emotional levels and nuance (yes, there is nuance in this song) of “We Found Love.” Things get more interesting when Jay-Z shows up on title track, “Talk That Talk”. The shoulder bounce beat and low synths glide with a “run this town” glory. Then comes the bounding, structurally fascinating mind trick that is “Cockiness (Love It)” which features men’s voices saying “Ohhhhh!” and another guy singing something along the lines of “chuck clep.” It’s produced by Bangladesh who did Beyoncé’s “Video Phone” and “Diva.” The lyrics include “She may be the queen of hearts/But I’m gonna be the queen of your body parts,” Very hard to figure out what it’s talking about.
Then on the next song she’s forgotten about her sexual appetite and she’s singing “We All Want Love.” Mixed messages. But boy can RiRi pull it off as she sings” “we all want the same thing.” I like her better as a love drunk loon than as a roaring sex machine. On the following track, “Drunk on Love” (noticing the love theme yet?) she pretty much spells it out for us: “I feel like I’m a hopeless romantic, I can’t help falling in love,” I love that she admits this though. She uses a bit of an xx song here too. How very Drake-like . I wish they did something more interesting with the sample though. It gets buried underneath the synth action.
Bonus track, “Red Lipstick” is a horn dog sexual exhibitionist dub step song that adds nothing new to dub step and just kind of makes you go “ew.” In fact, many of these songs come across as different takes on “S & M” albeit really unintentionally hilarious. Rihanna ends up being your friend who’s the over sharer. When all else fails, her vocals are very good. You can tell she secretly loves ballads because she clasps the microphone with tenacity and doesn’t let go on tracks like “Fool in Love” and “Drunk on Love” as well as the wonderfully unstable “Where Have You Been.”
Maybe I’m being cynical, but I expect more from Rihanna at this point than “Loud” Part 2. On “We Found Love” she lets us in to relate to her more than ever before, then the rest of the album keeps us at a distance. Not much of the album really sticks. It should be catchier and more profound. “We Found Love” promised a different kind of album, “Talk That Talk” is sadly not it.
Parker Bruce is music editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org