Monday 19 November 2012

Rihanna - Unapologetic

Since 2009, the world has fallen out of love with Chris Brown, with one exception - Rihanna.  Their tumultuous relationship has had a huge impact on her musical career and, arguably, has informed her best work.  'Unapologetic' is Rihanna's most Brown-influenced album since 'Rated R' and it's all the better for it.  Yet since that 2009 album the tables have turned - where 'Rated R' was a musical middle finger to Brown, 'Unapologetic' is the equivalent to the public.  Her music may be indebted to her private life, but it's still nobody's business.

This, her seventh album in so many years, is a tale of two halves.  The first is a relative disappointment, with solid, predominantly upbeat but one-dimensional songs: the catchy yet repetitive Numb featuring Eminem that's hardly the next Love The Way You LieJump that's remarkable only for its sampling of Ginuwine's Pony; and Right Now with David Guetta that's as generic as his name would imply and provides the album's only true low point.  It's no surprise that Diamonds also features in this half - it might be a grower, but it's dull by Rihanna's standards.  For the most part these tracks eschew the emphasis on gratuitous sexuality we've come to expect from her (Jump being the exception).  These early tracks may seem standard as a result, but this is a fresh, more mature side to Rihanna that's rarely seen.  Further, this allows the ballads to stand out as the more exciting tracks, Loveeeeeee Song being an early favourite.

With 'Unapologetic' Rihanna is staking a claim as queen of the twenty-first century power ballad and the second half of the album certainly picks things up.  What Now begins with a humble piano introduction and just keeps escalating, layering powerful beats, soaring vocals and, eventually, a roaring guitar solo at the emphatic key change.  It's an epic halfway point to the album.  This is followed by Stay, with vocals from Mikky Ekko, providing an intimate and genuinely touching moment, Rihanna delivering her most accomplished vocal performance in years.  "Around and around we go... not really sure how to feel about it...I want you to stay", she sings in the chorus, exemplifying her conflicting emotions on Chris Brown.  On Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary, Rihanna continues to battle with her feelings and, in the process, delivers one of her best ever tracks.  The connotations of lines such as "you used to be this boy I loved and I used to be this girl of your dreams...I pray that love don't strike twice" are clear, though the repeated refrain "what's love without tragedy" succinctly sums up Rihanna's personal life and career - this track truly is her personal anthem. 

Elsewhere, Fresh Off The Runway marks a suitably dirty opening track; Pour It Up has Rihanna contemplating money and fame; whilst No Love Allowed sees Rihanna in typical bajan Man Down mode, the abuse associated with the lyric "like a bullet your love hit me to the core, I was flying 'til you knocked me to the floor" a little sickening.  Overall there's far less box-ticking than on 'Loud' or 'Talk That Talk', with 'Unapologetic' being a fresher, more complete album than those previous offerings.

However, it's Nobody's Business, the duet with Chris Brown and centrepiece of the album, that will be the most talked about track.  After the trauma she's endured, it's undoubtedly awkward hearing Rihanna singing Brown's praises - "You'll always be my boy, I'll always be your girl".  Is forgiveness the right message to be sending to other victims of abuse?  Yet with an album title like 'Unapologetic' and the chorus of this track repeating "it ain't nobody's business", it's obvious that Rihanna just doesn't care what we think any more   And perhaps she's right.  Nobody's Business encapsulates the symbiotic relationship between Rihanna and Brown, combining the best bits of their styles in musical and romantic union.  Perhaps they were meant for each other - after all, finding your soul mate is nothing to apologise for.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Loveeeeeee Song
* What Now
* Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary

Listen: 'Unapologetic' is available now.

Watch: Rihanna will be touring the UK next summer.