In her musical past, Rihanna has portrayed herself as a fresh-from-the-tropics ingénue (Music of the Sun, A Girl Like Me) and a pop princess with a naughty streak (Good Girl Gone Bad), before slapping an explicit R-rating on her back. And it was only a matter of time before she finally made the leap to living out Loud, naysayers be damned, as she boldly declared with her last album.
With the ubiquitous girlhood struggle to know herself now behind her, these days RiRi is showing us that she is on the cusp of full-fledged womanhood while in complete control in the driver’s seat. Her spirited new album, Talk That Talk, full of mid-tempo, club-ready pop and traces of contemporary R&B, is an affirmative, occasionally electrifying proclamation of fierce independence and jubilant enthusiasm. There is an infectious bliss in her voice, as she celebrates love, sex, and living life with clarity and purpose.
To wit, such song titles as “Drunk On Love” (where she “wears her heart on her sleeve” and “let love take the lead”); “We All Want Love,” and, yes, the throbbing chart-topper “We Found Love” all boldly speak for themselves, suggesting a yearning for tenderness and happiness.
But still, it is common knowledge that Rihanna is a complex creature of multiple layers, which always work themselves into her musical output. Her untamable inner naughty girl dominates the spotlight on the highly suggestive “Cockiness (Love It”) and “Birthday Cake,” a mere 80 seconds long, but that’s all the time she needs to make her point.
You have to give Rihanna credit for managing to consistently crank out notable singles, even when the lyrics enter navel-gazing territory. Take the pulsating title track, which gets a killer cameo from Jay-Z and scores a home run without Rihanna breaking so much as a bead of sweat. It’s an enjoyably low-key performance. “Roc Me Out” is another standout, with its sturdy beat and catchy hook.
Only 11 tracks long and practically devoid of lowlights, Talk That Talk is fabulously paced and thoroughly pleasing while showcasing yet another dimension to the one-of-a-kind pop goddess we know as Rihanna. The evolution continues.