Since 2009, Barbados-born Rhianna has been in headlines a whole lot more often for her personal life than for her music. This isn't exactly a unique problem, but most pop-megastars on the world stage have the chops to back it up. Rhianna has had precisely one culture-defining moment, 2007's ubiquitous "Umbrella". The fact is, though, that she had almost nothing to do with the song's creation, aside from contributing some pretty (though heavily auto-tuned) vocals to it. In fact, the song was famously offered to a number of other singers, notably Britney Spears.
Would she still be ranked among the ultra-famous if not for her turn as former good-guy Chris Brown's punching bag? Judging by her latest album, the vapid, laborious "Talk That Talk", the answer is unequivocally no.
The Calvin Harris-produced lead single "We Found Love" is a study in pop-by-numbers. Repeating the phrase "We found love in a hopeless place" 30-odd times doesn't make it any more profound. That sort of silly platitude belongs on only the most hopeful of Taylor Swift's teen anthems.
Much has been said about the dirtiness of "Talk That Talk", but reviews of that nature ring hollow. It's a carefully orchestrated move, one that Britney Spears, Madonna, Christina Aguilera and countless other women have done before. They've also done it more effectively and with ten times more sincerity, at least in Madonna's case.
VH1 went so far as to declare this album "The Dirtiest Pop Record Since Madonna's Erotica." Don't believe the hype. If you like your sexy cold and calculated, though, this may be the record for you. "Cockiness (I Love It)" is the most embarrassing example of a record-label's idea of sexy edge since "Genie in a Bottle". You sort of begin to feel sorry for Rhianna by the time she sings "Suck my cockiness/ Lick my persuasion." At the very least, you have to hope that she was forced at knife point to add a song like this to her catalog.
For an album with only 11 tracks, there is a staggering amount of filler here. "Watch n' Learn" is by the book hip-hop for people who know absolutely nothing about hip-hop. The Dr. Luke-produced "You Da One" is a completely misplaced experiment with dubstep, currently the most maligned of all popular genres.
Rhianna is likely not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Even if this album isn't the highest-selling of her career, those of us who truly love music will have to endure reinvention after reinvention from yet another middling pop-princess. If only there were a large enough umbrella to shield us all from it, we'd be much better off.