Album Review: Rihanna - Rated R

Posted by Mack of Sound-Savvy On 4:58 PM

Artist: Rihanna
Album: Rated R
Release Date: 11.20.09

After a tumultuous year in the public eye, Rihanna emerges from the darkest period of her life with her fourth album Rated R, a journey inside her intimate velvet rope where personal becomes public. Like her previous albums, Rated R is predominantly pop but it folds in other genres including some grungy and soft rock, R&B, and hip hop to create an easily accessible sound. With this project, Rihanna’s growth as both an artist and a woman are quite evident: the production is a lot deeper as is the lyrical content, giving her a sound that is much bigger and a lot bolder.

Much of the content is reflective of her life under the intense media spotlight over the past 9 months, introduced by the grim lead-single Russian Roulette. The metaphors in this Ne-yo-penned song translate her public and personal transformations chronicled in photos, interviews and the speculations of the media while the pain of her entire ordeal is felt in the vocal delivery. The other ballads on Rated R are equally as strong, including Ne-yo’s offering of Stupid In Love, and Justin Timberlake’s Cold Case Love. Timberlake’s contribution is one of the standouts of the album with its excellent composition and progressively building instrumental and vocals. Rihanna teams up with Young Jeezy on Hard, the follow-up single produced by her faithful collaborator The Dream. The air of confidence on Hard makes it a definitive comeback anthem as she takes shots at her detractors, naysayers and mostly her competition. The most disturbing of the album’s 13 tracks is G4L (Gangsta 4 Life), a gritty and raw song with a surprisingly violent undertone – very far left of the pop image we've grown to know.

Despite the dark undertones, Rihanna stays true to her longtime fans on slightly less-heavy cuts like Rockstar 101 alongside Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash and the promo single Wait Your Turn, one of the album’s weaker tracks despite a few good one-liners. Photographs features Black Eyed Peas front man Will.I.Am and is sure to be a dance hit although it sounds like recycled content from the Peas’ latest album The E.N.D. (complete with Will’s signature beat switch). Newcomer Ester Dean scores a hit with Rude Boy, a toned-down pop jam with yet another infectious beat and more great vocals. The Latin-flavored Te Amo grooves into new ground sonically and lyrically, as Rihanna seems to ward off advances from a female admirer (it might make for a nice video).

Throughout the album, it’s easy to hear semblances of Rihanna’s previous works and style, but instead of resting in that comfort zone she takes everything to the next level. Her ballads soar higher, her beats hit harder and her lyrics are a lot edgier this time around. The vocals on this project are also a lot more intense, born out of deep emotion – both love and hate. Gone are the days of bubblegum pop lyrics and sweet stories. Rated R is the product of a seasoned professional, and bears the pain and vulnerability of a scorned woman. The emotion transfers into the music and although this album isn't flawless, it gives her fans an intimate peek into her life and could be considered her best and most congruent project to date.

Sound-Savvy rates Rated R with 4 out of 5 platinum headphones.

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