Already on her fifth album, Rihanna's latest effort LOUD is a welcomed return to form after venturing to the dark side on 2009's Rated R. Understandably, she had her own personal matters to cope with at the time. Rihanna though, always has been synonymous with fun Pop Music and inasmuch as I support trying new things, at the same time there is an unsaid expectation from the Public that an artist shouldn't veer too far out of character.
Much of the reason why this new album works so well is the electric chemistry Rihanna has with American-based Swedish producers Stargate, who have helped her achieve a sound which worked best for her on 2008's Good Girl Gone Bad. That album spawned smash hits Don't Stop the Music and Take a Bow. Since then, they have reached number one together on Billboard's Hot 100 Chart with both singles Rude Boy and Only Girl (in the World).
Some of the stronger tracks on LOUD are also collaborations with Stargate including second single What's My Name? (ft. Drake), Complicated and also Fading, all somewhat of a sonic continuation of where she left off with Rude Boy - euphoric, melodic and heavy on the synth and percussion. What makes these tracks distinctly hers is the catchy Island-influenced refrains she crafts, whether it be "ella ella ella", "eh eh eh", "away away away" or just simply "na na", Rihanna sure understands the meaning of infectious. Racy potential third single S&M is exactly as naughty as its title suggests, with the Bajan export proving that she is now fully a Woman, declaring "Sex in the air/ I don't care 'cause I like the smell of it".
Taking cues from BFF Katy Perry, Rihanna goes Pop Rock on the superb California King Bed, which although is no match to Perry's Teenage Dream, it is equally feel-good in its bittersweet melancholy - a reflection on passionate love. The track is a true testament to her coming into her own as a Vocalist, as she has made leaps and bounds in terms of strength over the past couple years. She also shares in Perry's love of the Bottle on Avril Lavigne-sampling Cheers (Drink to That) - a reminder that the Party Girl has returned.
Being multi-faceted, a Rihanna album would not be a Rihanna album without a bit of an Urban edge and she pays homage to her Island roots on Man Down and also Rapper Nicki Minaj collaboration Raining Men, which just to clarify has little to do with the Weather Girls hit of a similar title. She sends us off on an introspective note with a Part II to number one hit Love the Way You Lie (ft. Eminem), this time with her on the Verses and the Rapper appearing late in the track. The version of the track we always wanted to hear.
Everything happens for a reason in life and despite the hardships Rihanna has faced under the spotlight, everything culminated here in a highly satisfying collection of songs. Without a doubt there are many tracks on LOUD which almost by birthright are entitled to a spot near the top of the Charts. But then again, I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise from one of the most important Pop Artists of the 21st Century. Rihanna's LOUD from Def Jam/Universal Music will be released November 16, 2010. Grade: A