Monday, November 19, 2012

Rihanna's "Unapologetic" Album Review

Rihanna's music generally isn't far off from the reggae/R&B/hip hop rhythms that I enjoy, but as a "pop" star I am often surprised how much her music moves me. Not necessarily lyrically, or in some deep intellectual realm: but it moves me. Whether it's a dance track, a ballad, or a reggae remix, I admittedly enjoy her music. A lot.

On the day of it's release (her 7th album in 7 years...hence the 7-city "777" tour she's currently on), I am prepared to take in each and every song on this Monday, November 19, 2012...before I hear the critics' reviews or any other subjective commentaries on Rihanna/her life/her social significance/Breezy. I am totally taking this album in right now for what it is: another musical success in the making.

TRACK ONE ~ FRESH OFF THE RUNWAY ~ For the first track on the album, this one didn't catch me right away. Didn't serve much musical purpose but to be an introduction to what was promised to be another phenomenal collection of chart-toppers. This particular song may not be one of them.

TRACK TWO ~ DIAMONDS ~ It took me a few listens to appreciate this song, but I already love it. At first I found it too simple, too uneventful, and almost 'adult-contemporary' in composition. But right now...I can't stop reciting the chorus in my head. I like the message. "We're beautiful like diamonds in the sky...eye to eye, so alive." Not saying much...but doesn't need to say much more than that. I named my publishing company "Kya" (an African name) that translates to "diamond in the sky" so I inherently love the motivation behind this one.

TRACK TWO ~ NUMB ~ This song starts off sleepy and like it ain't going nowhere good...but as soon as the intro breaks and the bass walks, the chorus starts, drums kick turns into a ridiculously fabulous--yet grimy--underground track. Sexy almost. This would make a sick hip hop beat, and I'm looking forward to hearing someone like my boy 2 Chainz remix the shit out of it! There's a slight reggae piano to it sharply in the background, and it's always nice to hear Eminem on any riddim. Miss him, and it's a interesting combinations of sounds and voices...a formula that totally works.

TRACK FOUR ~ POUR IT UP ~ She mentions the strip club before the first minute of the song, and rightfully so because I'm sure with the right music video, this will become a big "King of Diamonds" dancer anthem in the early months of 2013. Dollar signs. Throwing money in the sky. It's dope to hear a female speak of the experience from the "make-it-rain" perspective, and not the pole-climbing perspective. Again, it's real grimy and it waiting for a Big Sean verse. If the last couple of Rihanna's albums were dance music heavy, this album so far definitely leans in the direction of hip hop. A little darker without being depressing...a little wiser, without being too deep.

TRACK FIVE ~ LOVE SONG ~ This song features Future, and almost has an old-school Timbaland bounce to it, with a little 80's synth keyboard. It's meant to be interpreted through dance, everything about this song feels like a routine. Definitely doesn't sound like the exchange between the male and artists has quite reached the "love" stage, but it does sound like the prelude to something big. An electric guitar build-up, a lazy harmony between the two of them. Not quite love...but maybe a stare. A flirt. A proposition. The title is generic and probably intentionally misleading, but the song has mad energy and sexual tension!

TRACK SIX ~ JUMP ~ And...enter the female-empowering lyrics: "you think i'm gonna wait around...I ain't got all day." She quotes a little Genuwine (Pony), and the mesh of sounds doesn't 100% make sense to me (yet) as it jumps from a pop track, to 80's funk, and everything in between. It has it's moments, but if anything, the lyrics are stronger than the music itself. And the lyrics aren't too sayin' much...but I'm sure teenage girls will love to sing this one out loud, for what it's worth.

TRACK SEVEN ~ RIGHT NOW ~ Off the jump, this one has the makings of a hit. Anthem singing words. Heavy bass. Quick drums. It's David Guetta. It was already a hit before it even began, because this motherf-er is sick, and has been dropping nothing but musical gems for the past couple of years. Guaranteed single, coming soon to saturate a radio station near you. "We young right now...we got right now, so get up what now, 'cause all we got is right now."

TRACK EIGHT ~ WHAT NOW ~ This one is for the teenage fans who need at least one traditional pop ballad to sing out loud, and daydream to. It's slightly more rock-esq than the other songs on the album. Loud cymbol crashes. Heavy drums, broken by pleasant piano during the verses. This could have easily been performed by Pink or Kelly Clarkson, it has that kind of feel to it. It works for Rihanna...however it slightly dropped the vibe I had been riding for the songs leading up to this.

TRACK NINE ~ STAY ~ The album changes pace at this point, starting off with basic chord progressions, again with a pop/rock feel to it. I appreciate the versatility of Rihanna, and her ability to move comfortably between genres...but I also wouldn't mind hearing one style of music done thoroughly on one album. For example, the hip hip spirit has now been forgotten, and the listener is almost forced to transition into another musical mind space. I'm not sure how effective this is..but won't take away from the fact that it's a pretty decent song. Also not sure who Mikky Ekko is...but he sounds dope on this track.

TRACK TEN ~ NOBODY ~ If this was a television show, this might be the point where I get up for a commercial break, or change the channel. I get the hommage to Michael Jackson. I get the duet with Chris Brown and blatant message that their love life is nobody's "bidness"...but again, there's such a change in genre that the song might be better heard out of procession with the others. It has a nice 90s pop feel to it, a nice dance groove, and real sing-a-long lyrics to it. A feel good song. Nothing more, and damn Breezy has channeled the hell outta Michael in this song.

TRACK ELEVEN ~ LOVE WITHOUT TRAGEDY / MOTHER MARY ~ Back to the 80s again, this was made for a John Hughes film, or a Sting concert...real musical, and I LOVE it. Love the electric keyboard. Love her voice. Love the lyrics. "I was his Marilyn Monroe." Also reminds me a bit of the Eurhythmics.  And just now I'm taking in the title and realizing that I'm going to have to re-assess the album based on lyrical content at some point...because it's beginning to sound like PR for her and Chris getting back together. The second part of the song, "Mother Mary" is prayerful, and indeed...almost apologetic. I really like the passion in her voice in this song. The energy is very theatric, and I think it'll make a great MTV Award performance in the near future. Insert altar and dry ice. "As long as we got each other, I'm prepared to die in the moment." Oh boy. I might have to start from the beginning and re-write this review as a dissertation on why this girl is pubically making all the wrong relationships moves, as a role model. But I digress.

TRACK TWELVE ~ GET IT OVER WITH ~ An extended interlude. Pretty strings from the start, pretty harmonies, and a mellow swing to this song. It doesn't sound complete in itself, but like a transition between movements in the album's progression. Love the lyrics though..."why keep thundering, just fuckin rain and get it over with." Nice.

TRACK THIRTEEN ~ NO LOVE ALLOWED ~ Gun finger. Enter the now mandatory roots/reggae track, and my automatic favourite on the album as soon as the dub bass starts. Bring in the Bajan accent. Drum shuffle. I'm sold. Almost like "Man Down"...just more vulnerable. The bassline is SICK. Rihanna is a natural on a reggae beat, and I wouldn't mind hearing her go full out with a Caribbean-style record one day. Even if just for fun. Luckily, her fans are so hardcore that even the young girls in Australia and other depths of the world would be vibing to the reggae riddims. This song is great. Not too overpowering, but there's something about her voice in this genre that comes across real strong, musically.

TRACK FOURTEEN ~ LOST IN PARADISE ~ A little bit bland from the start...the album could have ended at "No Love Allowed" as far as I'm concerned. This takes us back to the rock and heavy drum feel of earlier on in the album, again switching the vibe and making me re-think my listening order for the next time I play this CD. A classic Rihanna sound...possibly autobiographical again. "It may be wrong, but it feels right." As much as the album is called "unapologetic"...there does seem to be a lot of explainin' and justifyin' going on. the album ends. Kind of abruptly, and on the worst song of the album which somehow slightly diminishes the previous escalation to track 13. That was my official first listen, and I'm sure that on subsequent sessions, I'm going to further dissect what's going on in Rihanna's head (aka the head of her various songwriters), why in the world she's still promoting this "crazaaaay yet passionate" love (I guess that's all a part of her being young and free)... and then I'll start worrying about her as a woman, about her future in the music business, and why at almost 35 years old I find myself really digging this girl's album, carefree sensibilities, and unnaturally strong confidence and bravado. Whether perception, or reality. Most likely perception.

But for what it was worth, on a first-day listen...I really enjoyed the process. That's all for my review, 'cause it's time to watch the "777" live stream of Rihanna's concert online from the UK. If nothing else, this girl has been working consistently from day one, and the marketing and related teams behind her are sheer genius. They have kept her on top for so long, she has maintained her status as a pop queen, and this album makes it clear that she is not even close to ready to give up the #1 spot.