Rihanna may still be a teen, but one listen to her sophisticated, sultry sound in Good Girl Gone Bad should convince all but the most jaded listeners that she’s no child.
The clear, mature vocals she presents on her third release are reminiscent of the star power that young Motown divas projected almost out of the gate – sophisticated, alluring, and mature.
With plenty of help from R&B hit makers Jay-Z and Timbaland, the singer shakes off her image as a fresh-faced teen from Barbados and moves straight to the jumping off point of soon-to-be superstar. But it’s clear – in both sound and image – that Rihanna’s image is carefully molded. In an age where image is everything, her style is more reminiscent of Diana Ross than Lil’ Kim – dressed more for an elegant evening at a fine dinner club than for a down-and-dirty seduction.
This stylish 12-track CD features mostly up-tempo songs that were clearly written and produced for the dance floor. Much has been written about “Umbrella” featuring Jay-Z. No doubt it’s a strong, memorable track with pounding rhythm that is likely already on heavy rotation in dance clubs throughout the world.
No doubt, the song is beautifully produced and arranged, mixing in Jay-Z’s rap with Rihanna’s lilting voice. It might as well have “hit” stamped below its title. But there’s something a bit troubling about this musical blessing to Rihanna from the man himself (“She fly higher than weather; And she rocks it better”). It almost waters down the “independent woman who controls her own destiny” image that Rihanna seeks to project.
In my mind, “Shut Up and Drive,” is a superior tune both for the dance floor and to fully state Rihanna’s in charge of her own destiny ("Get you where you wanna go, if you know what I mean. Got a ride that´s smoother than a limousine.") But while the song, like many on the album, is blatantly suggestive, it’s never over the top and nicely blends in musical highlights from New Order’s “Blue Monday.”
By the same token, “Push Up On Me,” uses pieces of “Running With the Night” by Lionel Richie and “Don’t Stop the Music” includes bits of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.”
It’s a smart move to pay homage to greats of the past and use some of today’s big stars, including Ne Yo, on the sweet song “Hate That I Love You,” to further propel Rihanna.
Rihanna has shown what she can do musically. Now the question is, will Jay Z push her out of the nest to allow her to fly alone, hopefully into stardom, or will she remain sheltered by others? Time will tell.