There’s something admirable about the way Rihanna makes being a global chart superstar look easy. Her stratospheric rise to the top – banging out an album a year, cherry-picking from the cream of pop producers – might seem peerlessly dominating, at times predictable. But the fact she’s made some blindingly good tracks in the process is inescapable.
Lead single We Found Love is ‘Rihanna: The Brand’ operating at full capacity; a sleek, precision guided missile to the heart of that music-buying drive. For all its effortless appeal though, it’s hard to shake the fact that considering what both Rihanna and Calvin Harris are capable of producing at their absolute best, We Found Love is not the staggering dance-pop juggernaut it could have been.
On the collaboration front, the album’s title track team-up with Jay-Z is a more inventive affair. Talk That Talk struts forth with attitude and buckets of machine-gun beats, oozing with the universal charm that has won Rihanna a place in the hearts of so many the world over. It’s no Umbrella, but then, what is?
You Da One feels more attuned to Rihanna’s Bajan roots than the blitz of future-pop her dancier singles have so often based themselves on. Pert and playful sounding, it makes for a nice break from the über-sexualised Rihanna that sets the Daily Mail comment pages alight. Rihanna’s knack for landing on radio-friendly smashes is uncanny, but for all its cheery tropical flavours, You Da One just doesn’t rank up with her all-time greats. When you’ve set the bar as high as she has in the past, the unfortunate truth is that one day, you’re going to falter.
Where Have You Been on the other hand is bold, exciting, packed full of drama – exactly the kind of record you expect of RiRi. A return to the darker sounds of her Rated R album – in particular the sublime Photographs – the track blends atom-splitting acid house synths with rhythmic guitar hooks to create a kind of amped-up version of Cheryl Cole’s Will.i.am collab 3 Words.
All things considered, for all Rihanna’s sexual posturing in her videos and performances, Talk That Talk as a whole is remarkably tame compared to some of the star’s past work. If anything, the dollops of production sheen wrapped around every track instead give it a cold, machine-like feel. There is, of course, an exception – the tantalisingly named Cockiness. It’s a struggle to take any song with lyrics such as “suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion” seriously, but the stuttering dancehall percussion does little to redeem this interlude-style ode to foreplay.
Jaunty ‘rock’ number We All Want Love is this album’s California King Bed, but lacks that track’s killer chorus while Drunk On Love sees Rihanna taking a leaf from Drake’s book and sampling The xx with mixed results. Roc Me Out is a surprising late-album standout, coming on like a head-on collision between Rudeboy and Pendulum’s Slam (the drum and bass act co-wrote and produced the track). Sure, like much of the album, Rihanna is mining her past glories all over again, but she does it with such swagger, such enthusiasm, that the end result is a definitive thrill-ride of a success.
The lasting impression of Rihanna in 2011 is of her not only talking that talk, but walking the walk too. Her greatest asset is herself – even when the music falls short, the sheer force of her personality more than makes up for it.