Thursday, November 10, 2011

What's the Rihanna album like, then?

Earlier in London, Rihanna's manager Jay Brown played a group of journalists her new album, Talk That Talk. He played it at full blast over a pair of speakers with a red warning light that kept flashing to tell us our hearing was being irreparably damaged.

It is impossible to review an album under these circumstances. Some songs (the best songs) take a couple of plays to fully reveal their beauty. But here are some very brief impressions of the record that's being released on 18 November.

1) You Da One
Second single. Mid-tempo love song with a reggae tinge. Key lyric: "My love is your love and your love is mine". Nothing like the Whitney Houston song.

2) Where Have You Been?
Glowsticks ahoy! We are in club territory, waving our hands around like we just don't care, unless we care about waving our hands around, in which case we are in perfect harmony with our wants and needs and desires. Where Have You Been contains an amazing acid house bass line and no discernible tune.

3) We Found Love
Calvin Harris's production sounds incredibly good on these speakers.

4) Talk That Talk - with Jay-Z
Rihanna is "gon' give it to me right". Across the 11 tracks of this record, Rihanna claims she is gon' give it to me approximately 42 times. I have not received it once. What a swizz.

5) Cockiness (I Love It)
This song genuinely features the lyric "suck my cockiness". People in the room look visibly pained.

6) Birthday Cake
At 1 min 18 secs, this is more of an interlude than a song. The chorus goes "cake, cake, cake, cake, cake". Actually quite good.

7) We All Want Love
Jangly guitar ballad. Incredibly shrill.

8) Drunk On Love
Includes massive Ryan Tedder snare drum sound. Rihanna says she is "drunk on love" and "nothing can sober me up" but she doesn't even sound tipsy.

9) Roc Me Out
At first, this appears to be a big rumpo number - this album's equivalent of S&M or Rude Boy. Then suddenly Rihanna declares "I'll let you in on a dirty secret, I just want to be loved". I KNEW IT! I BLOODY KNEW IT!

10) Watch N' Learn
Sadly not a tribute to Nintendo's classic Game'n'Watch series. Sad Mario face.

11) Farewell
A very sweet, stirringly dramatic power ballad. "Somebody's going to miss you," coos Rihanna as she sends her lover out the door, "And that somebody is me". The video must conclude with a shot of Rihanna in her apartment, hugging herself in a sweater and staring out the window.

And that is it. Talk That Talk is just 35 minutes long, unless you fork out the Deluxe edition, in which case you get a further 12 minutes of music.

You should consider splashing out the extra cash because, for once, the bonus tracks are actually better than the main album. In particular Red Lipstick, produced by Chase & Status (its based on their track, Saxon), is a hugely adventurous voodoo dance track. Rihanna's voice is layered over itself dozens of times, with fluttering harmonies competing with vocodered chants and Jamaican dancehall call-outs. In my notes, I've crossed out "quietly funky" and written "noisily funky" instead.

Do Your Thing, another bonus track, is a proper pop song which, bravely, samples the drum sounds from Umbrella, and features a corking tongue-twister chorus: "I know you like lips and chicks and looking at hips in a little outfit", while the Dr Luke-produced Fool In Love has the album's only axe solo. It's gnarly, dude.

As I said, however, first impressions can be deceptive. The most useful and factual review I can give is about how the album will move your feet across a dance floor (or, if you're me, a bedroom floor). To that end, here is a graph of how the record's tempo changes across the 11 tracks of the standard edition, drawn in real time as I listened to the record.


PS Here is an article with Rihanna's manager talking about the album after the playback session. He has some interesting things to say about album lengths and release schedules.

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