Album Review: Rihanna's 'Talk That Talk'
Will Rihanna finally land her first No. 1 on the Billboard 200? In contrast to her 11 trips to the Billboard Hot 100 summit, the Barbadian singer has never reached the album chart’s peak.
If it’s a question of worthiness (which we know it’s not), then “Talk That Talk,” out Monday, should definitely claim the pole position (because, God knows, Rihanna frequently reminds us throughout the album how much she enjoys grabbing the “pole.” )
“Talk That Talk” is Rihanna’s sixth album in as many years. She’s evolved from a sweet, playful teenager on her debut “Music of the Sun” to a troubled young women, raunchily exploring the darkest corners of her sexuality on “Rated R,” and swung back to somewhere in the middle on last year’s “Loud” and now on “Talk That Talk.”
As opposed to the defiant Rihanna we’ve encountered on past sets, on “Talk That Talk,” Rihanna is pliant when it comes to love and sex matters. She’s a willing accomplice to whatever her cuddling comrades have in mind, as she sings on propulsive club, electro-pop thumper and one of the album’s most engaging tracks, “Where Have You Been”: “You can have me anyway you want.” It’s a recurring theme, as expressed on the uplifting first single “We Found Love” featuring Calvin Harris, which rejoices over finding love in the most unlikely places, as well as new single, the ebullient, dub-stepping “You Da One.”
Working with a raft of producers, including Dr. Luke, Alex da Kid, Ester Dean, Bangladesh, Stargate, and The-Dream, Rihanna has created a sonically intriguing work that draws from rock, pop, disco, rap, hip-hop, electro-pop and R&B without ever sounding like it’s on the collision course that could have occurred in less capable hands. There are few outright disappointments, among them the title track featuring Jay Z, which sounds like warmed over “Rude Boy.” Similarly, there’s a 1:18 track called “Birthday Cake” that may be meant only as an interlude, but instead, it just sounds unfinished.
Rihanna’s singing chops continue to grow more impressive and on “Talk That Talk,” she seems determined to take on the likes of Beyonce and even Kelly Clarkson when it comes to tackling mid-level yearning and wanting on tracks such as the anthemic “We All Want Love,” which opens with a group sing that will surely get amplified in concert, and bolstered by a military drum beat. Same with “Drunk on Love,” as she goes after that mid-tempo, rhythmic, layered sweet spot that Beyonce has mined so effectively, this time with a little help from the xx’s “Intro.”
The standard edition of the album closes with another ballad, “Farewell,” which sounds like any song ever written by Ryan Tedder for a female, although this track is penned by Dean and Alex da Kid. The tracks highlight Rihanna’s vulnerable side and while they sound good, she can’t always quite sell them since her tough veneer always seems to be lurking right behind her softer side despite her best efforts.
And, of course, this being Rihanna, there are the grinding sex numbers that she has down to an art. Subtlety is not Rihanna’s strong suite and “Cockiness” is exactly what you think it would be about, even though it’s cloaked in word play such as “Suck my cockiness/Lick my persuasion.” Despite the lazy obviousness of the lyrics, the track, produced by Bangladesh, boasts some killer hooks including the infectious “I love it when you eat it” refrain to be a major highlight of the thousands of remixes of the tune surely headed our way.
She reminds us on the grinder “Roc Me Out” that “I’ve been a bad girl, daddy.” It’s nothing we haven’t heard her do before, and, along with “Talk That Talk” is a fairly average track.
Rihanna rebounds with the far more interesting “Watch n’ Learn,” a downright bouncy, dub-influenced track that serves as love tutorial as she instructs her man, “Just because I can’t kiss back doesn’t mean you can’t kiss that.”
The standard edition comes in at slightly more than 35 minutes and is a punchy, positive, fun pop affair with, by our count, probably five potential No. 1 tracks. Since Rihanna is clearly on a path to surpass the Beatles’ 20 No. 1s, “Talk That Talk” also manages what it must to further that goal: it walks the walk with a beat that will bring a smile to your face.