Posts Tagged ‘fury’

h1

Rihanna – Unapologetic. (album review)

December 2, 2012

https://i0.wp.com/www.thequ.co/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Rihanna_Unapologetic.jpeg

Unapologetic might be Rihanna’s best album yet. In truth, I’ve been struggling to work out how to start a review of this album without referring to her previous masterpiece Rated R, which was a tour de force that exposed an angry, vulnerable girl trying to figure out the aftermath of love gone wrong. This album came out when I was in the midst of trying to untangle and deal with my own feelings of unrequited love, and resonated with me on such a level. On the other hand, Unapologetic comes out when I am happily in love and settled in my own life. This time, Rihanna’s narrative is quite different to my own – and yet Unapologetic, to its credit, still connects with the listener, drawing them into her fury that this time is more simmering than explosive (on Rated R, all-out rage only begins to subside into a quieter, more vulnerable, bubbling – yet nevertheless powerful – anger at around “Photographs”, two thirds of the way through the record).

Of course, Rihanna’s life has changed considerably since then. An even bigger star now than she was 3 years ago with the ability to only release number 1 singles, now she has a number 1 album to match. Meanwhile, her atomic breakup with Chris Brown (precipitated by his fists) has metamorphosed into media-baiting behaviour, ill-advised collaborations with Brown and the rumoured (likely true, if the photographs and ineloquent tweets and confessions of her ex are to be believed) rekindling of their romance. Unapologetic: why shouldn’t Rihanna forgive her abuser, her first love? Why shouldn’t she work with a hot male R&B star? Why can’t she misbehave, smoke, drink, party night after night like anyone in their early twenties? Despite what naysayers like to purvey, her career certainly hasn’t suffered for it. But the material on the album – none of which was written by Rihanna but all of which has a stamp immediately more personal than the scattergun Loud that hit dizzying heights all too infrequently, and than the ultimately unsatisfying Talk That Talk that petered out halfway after such a promising start – displays a thoughtfulness that suggests that while Rihanna may be “unapologetic”, she’s not unaware of what is going on around her, what is happening to her and certainly of what is being said or claimed about her. Unapologetic continues where Rated R left off: there are certainly hits, but nearly every song carries a depth of meaning that exudes confidence, confusion, sex and honesty.

Opener “Phresh Out The Runway” is swag personified, and is effectively Rihanna making an entrance. While it’s great to start the album, and an excellent song to listen to for an immediate energy boost when you’re half-asleep leaving the house on the way to work, it’s not the meaningful content I’ve discussed above. Neither is the other David Guetta collaboration, “Right Now”, a club diversion that rehashes previous album highlight “Where Have You Been” to pleasant but unremarkable effect. But on lead single “Diamonds”, we get a childlike chant, a sparkling midtempo strut and a powerful vocal that lyrically echoes previous megahit “We Found Love”: where there were “yellow diamonds in the sky”, now we are “shining bright like a diamond in the sky”. Rihanna’s vocals have grown more impressive over the years (whatever she’s smoking, I would like some) and where she may have simply been a vehicle for delivering hit songs even on the consistent Good Girl Gone Bad, now it’s she who transforms a song into a smash. The chorus is powerful yet sincere, and lyrics such as the telling “I choose to be happy” betray a sense of desperation in trying to convince herself that a romantic relationship is truly infallible rather than fleeting (as are the moments portrayed in the accompanying video). It’s a fantastic performance, and a refreshingly downbeat choice for a lead single that nonetheless packs punch.

The next trio of songs could all be described as downbeat yet potent, but each has its own place on the album. “Numb” works atop a sensual Egyptian-sounding ostinato and pounding drums, while Rihanna drawls monotonously that nobody “can’t tell her nothing… I’m impaired / I’m going numb, I’m going numb”. Interestingly, the vulnerability continues as the lyrics imply that for all her power and “double-dares”, Rihanna sees herself as the defective one. “Pour It Up” in contrast is celebratory of women who are in charge (like Rihanna, of course)… and yet the vocals and beats are submerged in aural tar, as if Rihanna is high off the champagne, weed and money referenced in the songs. None of these songs are instant, and yet on repeated listens they reveal themselves as worthwhile and interesting – “balling out” may not be as fun as it’s cracked up to be. “Loveeeeeee Song” is also very chill, working from a traditional R&B template that’s chopped and screwed into something less recognisable. It’s a romantic ballad dressed up as a nonchalant come-on. So far, the theme of Unapologetic is that appearances can be deceiving – Rihanna is flawless, cocky, confident, nonchalant, vulnerable, determined to be happy, numb, impaired, intoxicated, worried about “sounding too desperate”, in need of love and affection… It’s a spiralling morass of emotion dressed up as a percolating limousine ride.

Things become much more straightforward with “Jump” – i.e. SMASH. Dubstep breakdowns done right and made fresh and dynamic; a sample of “Pony” by Ginuwine that could have easily been problematic (as is so often the case when interpolating excellent material) but instead elevates the music; Rihanna is cocksure and forthright. But within a couple of songs, we have an explosive ballad that I saw described by a user on Popjustice as “fire and ice blasting out of the ground”. “What Now” is flawless and one of Rihanna’s best works – a mid-tempo ballad that quickly becomes bombastic, overwrought and emboldened by one of her best vocal performances to date. As drums explode and guitars roar to a climax, lyrics profess that “I spent every hour just going through the motions / I can’t even get the emotions to come out / Dry as a bone, but I just wanna shout”. The emotions certainly do come out, so palpably that the cut is utterly absorbing and one of Rihanna’s best. “Stay” directly follows this and is the quietest track on the album, serving as more evidence of Rihanna’s improvements as a vocalist and interpretative singer – she is capable of taking a song and breathe life into it, whatever the subject matter or emotional standpoint. It’s just been confirmed as Unapologetic‘s second single and appears to be a fan favourite, though I wouldn’t go any further than saying the song is fine – I would certainly champion other tracks over this one. But its contrast with the other songs on the album and with Rihanna’s usual output gives it its own place on the album.

“Nobody’s Business”, the duet with Chris Brown, is the perceived “event” of the album, sampling Michael Jackson to boot. But musically it’s a little bit flat – the existence of the duet says more than its sonic attributes. “You’ll always be mine, sing it to the world… ain’t nobody’s business.” Yet another contradiction in an album full of them, both lyrically and musically. Is Rihanna purposefully spiting all of those who supported her during the fallout of her abuse suffered at Brown’s hands? Is it offensive? Or are they just teasing? It seems very pointed when Rihanna sings “Let’s make out in this Lexus” – as opposed to what happened in a car last time! It’s a trying sentiment that seems difficult to understand – but once again, let’s remember that Rihanna is “unapologetic” so what does it matter? She is going to do what she wants, she’s young and in love, and hopefully she won’t get hurt again in such a way. “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” is the album’s centrepiece that, like “The Last Song” from Rated R, captivates the listener with exceptionally personal exposure. Where the previous track aims to provoke without any substance to back it up, here the confessional actually reveals a lot. “I was his Marilyn Monroe / Brown eyes, tuxedo, fast cars / A James Dean on the low.” We are clearly taken back to that fateful night of Rihanna’s being attacked (and interestingly, she hints at Chris Brown’s alleged bisexuality to boot, which may or may not have something to do with the night in question).  The bravado of “Nobody’s Business” is completely gone here, and as the song transitions into “Mother Mary”, Rihanna sounds less sure of her swagger: “I swear I wanna change”. The lyrics touch on the nature of fame, as does worthwhile bonus track “Half Of Me”, and implies that whatever we think we know about Rihanna, us outsiders never get to see the whole picture and so we shouldn’t judge… but Rihanna understands that we inevitably will. As much as “Nobody’s Business” claimed to be happy-go-lucky and ready to dive into love-as-sex, “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” shows much more depth of thought (as in “What Now”) and heart that encourages repeat listens. This is another highlight of Unapologetic.

The closing songs of the album feel like a plane coming into land. “Get It Over With” is sublime, like a song-length interlude that urges the climax to “come on and fucking rain”; anger gives way to fatigue and surrender to whatever will be, good or bad. “No Love Allowed” is, contrastingly, a deceptively sunny reggae song that once again confounds expectations set up by the previous song. But the lyrics are spooky and uncomfortable, as was its precursor in spirit, Loud‘s “Man Down”. In direct opposition to that song’s subject matter, here it’s Rihanna yelling “911 it’s a critical emergency / Better run run run and charge him with the 143.” It’s a neat (perhaps too neat?) inversion of “Man Down” and seems to shed more light on the Chris Brown saga… but as highlighted in “Half Of Me”, how much do we ever know about Rihanna? We’re not privy to the whole story – according to “Mother Mary”, she’s going to “make the best scene they’ve ever seen.” “Lost In Paradise”, last but not least, is a bass-heavy closer that implies the story is not over, because now Rihanna has to find meaning to the paradise she claims to be stranded in if she ever hopes to find her way out.

For an album where Rihanna does not carry a single songwriting credit (though she is an executive producer), Unapologetic sure feels personal. And honest: an album filled with contradictions that are often calculated but nevertheless sound/feel like they have genuine meaning. The journey of the album is consistently riveting and reveals its complexities on repeated listens. There may be few answers to fans’ questions (however many sordid details it provides), but this rings less as Rihanna being deliberately elusive and more as she herself not quite knowing how to proceed. After all, she’s naked on the damn album cover – how much more vulnerable can one be, clothed only in a flimsy gauze of words, slogans and hashtags? In a world where her lover became her abuser and now may become her lover again, and where soundscapes and lyrics distort and contort around and through her voice, the one thing – no, two things – Rihanna clearly knows is how to release hit singles, and how to craft a powerful album.

Advertisements
h1

run(a)way.

June 9, 2010

Monday night, after one more argument with my mother over the dinner table where I should really know better than to voice an opinion contrary to that of my parents’, even if that opinion is backed up by fact and knowledge from my university studies rather than jaded cynicism and hearsay, I decided it was all too much and left home for 2 days.  My father was ambivalent during the whole row, my mother decided I had a “problem” with her and refused to listen to her (despite the fact I expressed my opinions in a calm manner, balancing positives with negatives; these opinions were talked over or dismissed at each turn); that I had suddenly “flipped out” despite the fact that she, not I, was the one raising their voice; that how could my feelings be hurt by her, if she’d had her feelings hurt by me? As if only one person can feel wounded by another at any one time.  I said that over the course of the year, I had learned that the only time I ever argued or was in a toxic atmosphere was at home with my parents, that I have the ability to make friends time and again and therefore there can’t be anything wrong with me, that I would no longer let my parents make me feel ugly.  I left to give myself some space, and I am more than grateful to Toby and Mike for providing me refuge, and to all of my friends for understanding and for saying that I was right, and not crazy.

People say that “friends are the family you can choose”. Others say that “blood is thicker than water”.  It is true that I will never not love my family: my mother and I were inseparable during my early years and we got each other through the dictatorship, misery and abuse (verbal, mental, very rarely physical) my father wreaked on our lives.  I won’t forget that.  Neither do I hate my father, although he doesn’t love me: he’s never known how to be a father, but at the age of 16 I finally realised that hating him still meant that he had some power over me.  I saw him weakened after one too many accidents on his bicycle – watching my father crippled, being wheeled in a wheelchair, having to help him go to the toilet in hospital made me realise that his power was all an illusion, and that if I didn’t submit to his subjugation, there was little he could do to truly hurt me.  Since those epiphanies, I’ve been able to forgive him for my childhood, and at times I know that his lack of attachment to me makes him almost an objective source, and occasionally a better source of advice or confidant than my fiercely feisty but heavily biased mother (if I have issues and neuroses, I most certainly learned them from her).  He’s not a bad person and I don’t think he ever meant to be, he’s just imperfect.  My mother is imperfect too, and just as I rebelled against my father, I’m now fighting a battle to establish myself as an intelligent human being against and apart from my mother, who unwittingly (unlike my father’s deliberate past sabotage) threatens my intellect and independence fairly often.  Her timing is off however: I’m 24 and after university not once but twice, and a gradually-formed but steadfast collection of true friends, I’m stronger than ever.  So I won’t take shit from either of them. I don’t need to.

I came home this afternoon with some trepidation: as much as I am strong now, I’m not invincible, and if I had been kicked out I don’t know how I would afford to live elsewhere until my job at Cirencester kicked in (my first salary payment won’t come through until mid-September, and my bursary won’t keep me going until then, especially if I’m juggling rent with driving lessons and tests, which are indispensable at this point).  Financially, I just can’t afford to be out of this house; emotionally, if they said goodbye, I’d walk out and never come back because my pride would not let me do otherwise.  I’d be shooting myself in the foot, but I’d do it with resilience in my eye.  However, I’d rather not have to shoot myself in the foot 😉 My mother is giving me the silent treatment: even though I don’t think I was in the wrong, before leaving on Monday night I apologised for “getting heated”. My mother did not, does not apologise unless hell has frozen over or unless she’s actually not done anything wrong.  My father is pretending like nothing ever happened, and is playing piggy in the middle of our fury; because there are 3 of us in our family, one of us is usually stuck in the middle / left outside alone (delete as appropriate) while the other two bait and infuriate.  Usually, I’m the third wheel to my parents’ storms.  So I can understand my father feeling relieved that he’s off the hook for a little while.  My stubbornness, identical to my mother’s (I won’t lie: we have a lot of similarities and I have had to reprogramme myself to eliminate some of her neuroses and pessimism ingrained in my psyche at a young age – they’re not all gone yet), means that our arctic silence will persist at least a week or two.  I don’t want this, I don’t want to be locked in war, and yet as a child I always surrendered to the silent treatment.  Not only am I not in the wrong, but I have apologised for my foibles in the argument.  I have nothing else to say: my mother evidently feels she is impeccable.  So what else is there to say or do, other than go on and wait for everything to subside?

Once everything is financially stabilised, I will be gone from here.  It’ll take only a few months I believe: my life is slotting into place and in my mid-20s, it’s been long overdue for me to be out of home.  Returning from my undergraduate degree, it was really difficult getting used to living under my parents again; over the past year when I’ve been going to UWE, their relationship seems to have destabilised to the point that I prefer to be alone or out than endure the atmosphere.  Perhaps it’s partly just natural for me, as an adult, to want my own independence too.  It is within reach now, I just have to bide my time a little longer and keep looking to the sky. Hopefully, when I achieve my goals, with some perspective and space my parents will be happy for me.  And if not, then that’s okay too, because I will be happy for myself and I have enough people who care about me that I feel healthy.  I can do this 🙂