TIME reviews ‘Talk That Talk’November 21, 2011
Rihanna is on a roll. One year after releasing Loud, the album that gave us the Grammy award-winning “Only Girl (In the World)” — as well as “What’s My Name?” “S&M” and “Man Down” — the Barbadian pop music vixen is already back with another full length effort, Talk That Talk. You should familiarize yourself with these songs right now because you’re going to be hearing them all winter.
Recently, Rihanna has been moving away from dance pop towards electronic/dubstep music, and Talk That Talk offers up several tracks that don’t require any remixing to make them dance floor ready. Like “We Found Love,” the album’s first single (and number one Billboard hit) and “Cockiness (Love it),” a filthy little track (“Suck my cockiness, like my persuasion” Rihanna demands in the chorus) that repeats a vocal sample so fast that it actually becomes the basis for the beat.
Then there’s the album’s title track, a spirited hip-hop song with a pop hook that reunites Rihanna and Jay-Z (the two appeared on her 2007 hit, “Umbrella”). Hova delivers ambling verses laced with double entendres and funny quips, including the very bizarre sexual reference, “[I] had it by her bladder, she’s like ‘Oh I gotta pee!’” On first listen, the line will make you pause — “Did Jay-Z just rap about going the bathroom?” — but actually, it’s just indicative of how much fun he appears to be having. You can almost hear him laughing as he says it. Elsewhere in the song he tells us he’s “flying out to Pisa just to get some pizza,” a line that sounds like something the Beastie Boys, not Jay-Z, would write.
There are a few exceptions to Talk That Talk’s dancehall sound: “Watch and Learn” leaves the Euro club scene in favor of a reggae-influenced drum beat while “Farewell” is the obligatory torch ballad that every female pop singer is required to include on an album these days. Most of Talk’s 11 tracks deal with love (or some lusty form of it, anyway). There’s “We Found Love,” as well as “We All Want Love,” “Drunk on Love” and the slightly less direct, “You Da One” and “Roc Me Out,” (which includes the lyric, “I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret, I just want to be loved”).
But Rihanna’s love is an obsessive sort. She doesn’t want to be your soulmate the way Beyoncé does. She doesn’t feel all giddy inside the way Katy Perry claims you make her feel. Instead, Rihanna equates love to feelings of drunkenness and uncontrollable addiction — the stuff of tragedy. She’s more akin to Lady Gaga in that sense. But there’s one big difference: Gaga seeks out emotional destruction while Rihanna seems to stumble into it.
It’s difficult to write about this without mentioning Rihanna’s ex-boyfriend, Chris Brown. For the past three years, every song she’s put out has been assessed in relation to her harrowing 2009 assault by Brown. I worry that by repeatedly mentioning the incident, we make it harder for her to publicly move on. But Brown’s assault was truly vicious and it’s something that the singer seems to be working through in her songs. Rihanna’s first two albums after the assault, 2009’s Rated R and last year’s Loud, both contained darker, angrier songs such as “Rude Boy” and “Man Down,” in which she confesses to killing a man who assaulted her. (And don’t forget her domestic violence duet with Eminem, “Love the Way You Lie”). So I’m happy to report that Talk That Talk is much more lighthearted than her previous efforts. It’s not completely carefree — have you seen the video for “We Found Love?” — but at least she doesn’t sing about murdering anyone, anymore. And in fact, “We All Want Love” is offers a glimpse of true romantic optimism. Rihanna still doesn’t trust many people, but at least she’s opening herself up again to the possibility.