The era of Rihanna's "recovery" seems to be over. To take from Kanye West's forthcoming album title, the Barbadian singer had her dark, twisted side exposed earlier this year with "Rated R," and with in her appearance on Eminem's hit "Love the Way You Lie" from his "Recovery"; but now we've gotten to the beautiful, fantastical part, with "Loud."

What redeems this 11-song set most is Rihanna's vocal extremes. From her rumbling West Indian accent pasted all over playful "Man Down" and Avril Lavigne-sampling "Cheers (Drink to That)," to the scrunched-nose naugtiness of "S&M" and "Skin" to the vulnerable "Complicated." Aside from her idiosyncratic "ehs," the 22-year-old continues to mature as a premiere pop vocalist, recognizable in her own tracks and in those of her cohorts.

Young Money stars Nicki Minaj and Drake make appearances, with the former on the addictive-like-sugar "Raining Men" and the latter on second single "What's My Name." Drizzy's contribution could be easily shrugged off, but that '90s dance mix synth line won't be easily forgotten.

Some songs are written paper thin and applied unevenly, like the lyrically flimsy "Fading" and "Complicated" or the elementarily useless "Love the Way You Lie (Part II)," with Eminem back for the reprise like a greedy Hollywood sequel. And then there's the wild range of tracks -- first single "Only Girl (In the World)" will easily fill the floors at gay dance clubs while "Raining Men" has enough elements to get long-play at urban radio. Production team Stargate was behind the first two singles and the likely third ("S&M") -- but that seems to be the only fount of sonic consistency.

But no doubt, whatever radio station or club the hits end up, hits are hits, and this album is chock full of 'em. Rihanna has returned to what she does best and expanded upon them, opening up her lungs, screaming, then laughing about it. This is the year's real pop music "Recovery."

"Loud" is out today (Nov. 16).

 

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