Album Review: “Talk That Talk” – Rihanna
As I embark upon the third year of my Culture Blues tenure (I like calling it a "tenure," it makes me feel distinguished), I have begun to notice some of the circadian rhythms which govern the music world. Much as the Earth revolves around the Sun every year, and the swallows return to Capistrano, I have begun to expect, nay, anticipate, musical events like: Rivers Cuomo infuriating me, the inevitable clash of hip-hop and politics, and of course, Rihanna dropping her annual album. Obviously this precognitive perspective is both a blessing and a curse; on the one hand, it helps me win a near endless amount of bar bets, while on the other hand, I already know that next year Jared Leto is going to release a record, and I will have to enter the witness protection program- which is a shame, because I like my friends and local haunts. But enough about my mutant powers, let’s get (as Dr. Dre would say) back to the lecture at hand.
Talk That Talk is the third Rihanna record I have reviewed and, unfortunately, it’s the worst. This decline in quality comes as no surprise. Since the release of Rated R, Rihanna’s been trading away steak for sizzle to the point where now there in no substance left. Rated R was released during a point in Rihanna’s life when she was dealing with issues that (I am obviously assuming here) were among the most challenging she had ever experienced. Such hardship, as it often does, gave birth to some decent art, and made for Rihanna’s best record by leaps and bounds. It was with the release of Loud that Rihanna decided she needed to be more salacious, and thus the de-evolution began. The change in her song-writing content is just one factor to blame for Rihanna’s musical diminution; primary among those has to be that it takes a substantial level of genius and skill to be able to produce a quality record on an annual basis (a skill which, speaking frankly, most artists in the modern musical landscape do not possess).
When Talk That Talk was first being circulated, the early opinions from media outlets were that this was going to be the raunchiest record since Madonna’s Erotica. Such hyperbole conjured up the notion that this was the sort of album I would have to listen to with a condom on my ear, but in the end, all of the hype was nothing more than exaggeration. In reality, Talk That Talk’s most lascivious moments are also its most worthless tracks. The unforgivably juvenile Cockiness (I Love It), for example, is a track so devoid of subtlety it might as well be replaced by an audio clip of Rihanna’s bedroom on a Saturday night. Cockiness, possesses no single redeeming detail whatsoever, unlike the equally horrendous Birthday Cake which, since it's over in only 1:18, is only a minimal waste of time. The third member of this slut-core quartet is Roc Me Out, a song that is more developed than the others, but still much too mediocre to become Rihanna's twelfth number one single (It should be noted that having 11 number one singles before you are even 24 is staggeringly impressive). Finally there is Watch N’ Learn, a track that strips away some of the techno and David Guetta influences (which this record is drowning in) and replaces them with pop sensibilities which result in a tune sassy women will absolutely love to sing in their cars.
There are eleven tracks on Talk That Talk and, now that I have gone over the songs with the clumsy entendres and awkward moments, the remaining seven tracks showcase this record’s biggest flaw, which is that most of it is disjointed and under-polished filler. The opening three tracks are the strongest, but when you listen to this record in its entirety, the early cuts come off as distant echoes from some other Rihanna album. The rest of Talk That Talk is just painting by numbers: there are the ubiquitous ballads, the Jay-Z cameo, and the calculated left turns which try to prove that this bad girl just wants to be loved, but end up convincing no one.
I want to say that I am disappointed by this record, but that would imply that I lost those precognitive powers which I claimed to have earlier in this review. Instead, I will go back to the whole "spreading yourself too thin by putting out a record every year" point. Who does Rihanna think she is, The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? Led Zeppelin? This girl needs to cut herself a break! Rihanna has a decent enough combination of talent and “it” to be one of music's biggest stars (as I re-read this sentence my mind screams “She is one of music's biggest stars!”, and I politely request that it stops being difficult. You should do the same), she just needs to stop giving in to the demands of the machine, and take the time to craft a gem gleaming with thought and effort. Of course, this is just me being a critic. I am sure her fans will be more than happy to listen to Riahnna’s new record, and Rihanna herself will enjoy cashing the checks.