Customer Review

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I like this album even though Rihanna is in a dark place........, 12 Dec 2009
This review is from: R Rated (Audio CD)
She's in a murderous mood for sure, which is why at a certain point I began referencing the artist by a new, more fitting nickname: "Rihannoir." Lyrically, Rihanna has all but rejected the meaningless dance floor romps to ballsy statements and sarcastic jibes.

Distrust and hurt is written largely on a number of the tracks here (given that she doesn't write most her own material, she has to find others to voice her anger and frustration). It is impossible to listen to many of the songs on "Rated R"--such as "Cold Case Love" (a highlight co-written by Justin Timberlake) or "Stupid in Love"-- and not filter them through that horrific context whether that is how they are meant to be heard or not. For example, first single "Russian Roulette," which we reviewed extensively for all its gunplay, is more about the psycho-sexual drama of being in a damaging relationship. The firearm motif continues on "G4L," which apparently stands for "Gangsta for Life." On the roughest of cuts, including the menacingly paced "G4L," Rihanna let's loose a deluge of blood-chilling statements: "I lick the gun when I'm done, 'cause I know that revenge is sweet." To tell you the truth my eyebrows raise on that statement along with the other stuff that was coming out of her mouth. Like "Russian Roulette," the song has a certain grinding, sensual mid-tempo rhythm that recalls a Shirley Bassey-era James Bond theme.

Yes, there is a world of difference between playing out some revenge fantasy in song and hitting someone in real life--and we are in no way suggesting otherwise-- but it can be a fine line to delicately walk between being both the totally innocent victim and the perpetrator, both of which she plays on "Rated R." On "Rude Boy," she tells her lover, "I like the way you pull my hair." It's tempting to give Rihanna a free pass in the name of expressing her rage and art, but it's equally fair to call her out for sending, if not mixed, slightly confounding messages. As much as Rihanna can bring the tough-girl swagger, I wouldn't want to face her in a dark alley, even with her in six-inch Louboutins--she's equally convincing as the vulnerable, hurting half of a destructive duo on "Stupid in Love," a stirring ballad in which friend after friend tries to wave her off a damaging relationship before she finds her own strength to walk away.

Rihanna doesn't have a particularly strong or broad range, but her voice is expressive and supple. One of her strongest suits is her delivery that often reflects her island upbringing. Instead of trying to sound like every other pop singer, on such tunes as "Wait Your Turn," and "Hard," she incorporates Caribbean beats and her patois into the songs, giving them both a unique feel. "Hard" finds Rihanna at her most defiant, pulling out all the stops to prove just why she's so...well, hard: "I'ma rock this sh.t like fashion, as in goin' til they say stop / And my runway never looked so clear / But the hottest b.tch in heels right here," she proudly proclaims over a grinding series of industrial beats, horns, and piano chords. Regardless of whether one is inclined to accept Riri's new-found street cred, it's all but impossible not to want to play along in the meantime.

The album isn't completely icy however, as the artist breaks down her defenses more than a few times for a series of introspective, though somewhat uneven jams. "Stupid in Love" is both the album's only traditional ballad and also the most skippable part of Rated R, as the singer plods through a somewhat embarrassing chorus: "This is stupid / I'm not stupid / Don't talk to me like I'm stupid." Other slow numbers, including the masterful, six-minute "Cold Case Love" and the guitar-heavy "Fire Bomb" all offer subtle clues as to how she's feeling: "Your love was breaking the law, but I needed a witness / So wake me up when it's over, it don't make any difference," she coos through "Cold Case Love."

Much of the credit has to be given to her collaborators particulary with Will.i.am brings a touch of sweetness and complements Rihanna's soft side on "Photographs." Rihanna easily shifts to her inner heavy-metal side with "Rockstar 101," on which she's accompanied by every one's go-to guitarist, Slash.

But if anything's meant for Brown, it's the soaring, gut-wrenching "The Last Song," the album's outro which may also go down as Rihanna's most overlooked, artistic piece of work yet.This album is not, however, the confessional many thought it might have been. In fact, Rihanna delves into a host of other topics and issues including the triple-take worthy "Te Amo," which follows a female suitor's unsuccessful attempts for the singer's affections atop a swaying, Latin beat. "I'm all for feeling the love, but I don't feel that way," Rihanna pleads as the song's bridge fades. Be it the young singer's first foray into lyrically exploring her sexuality or simply a not-so-subtle round of homophobia, "Te Amo" proves about as earnest in its replay value as Rihanna's unrequited love.

Though Rated R is not nearly as commercially viable or even as accessible as her past three records, the album offers a taste of experimental production value-a distinction that may not make itself apparent until years down the line. Aside from that, anyone looking for the escape from the daily doldrums that much of Rihanna's earlier music provided, look elsewhere.
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