Posts Tagged ‘hits’

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Rihanna – Unapologetic. (album review)

December 2, 2012

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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.

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secrecy.

January 14, 2010

For the moment, I’ve taken off the link to this blog from my twitter, and I’m going to be deleting the twitterfeeds as well.  I don’t anticipate doing this for long and they’ll be back up in a few days or so, for a couple of reasons which I will explain, but firstly I’ll explain why I’ve done it.  I’ve started seeing a wonderful guy called T, and he’s so nice.  He cooked me dinner last night, we talk on msn all the time, and we have great coffee sessions.  I’ve also stayed over at his place a couple of times and everything seems good so far.  I appreciate that all the time that I’ve been whining about being single and various foibles with guys, unrequited attractions etc., I’ve wanted someone solid, stable, interesting and nice, and now I appear to be finding that.  So why am I so fucking scared?

I know that part of it is that I don’t want to end up hurting T the way that I hurt Lukas in the past.  Although Lukas was way too clingy, and turned out to be a bit of a nutcase, he didn’t deserve to be hurt the way he was – even though it was an honest accident, being dumped by text is not the way that I operate (I think it’s a pretty shitty thing to do) and I will always regret that that was how things went down.  T, although we’ve only known each other for a few weeks, appears to be better in every way.  So the thought of accidentally hurting T and really upsetting him (I’m confident he likes me a lot) really scares me.  I’ve always been the kind of person who feels nervous but manages to override his fear, but I won’t lie and I’ll say that being single is so much easier – you’re not responsible for anyone else’s feelings and you don’t have to worry about what makes them happy or what makes them sad.  If I, in some way, hurt T through no fault of his own, I think it would make me feel really awful. So that’s part of my fear.

Thus getting to the reason why I’ve temporarily hidden the link to this blog.  If you’ve read some of my entries over the past 4 months, you’ll know that I’ve developed pretty serious feelings for someone.  Someone whom I can never have, but who has redefined what it is to be a man, and has shown me what I want to aim for as a man myself.  He’s one of my best friends, he’s really important to me, and I’m a total masochist for allowing my feelings to grow to this point.  But I know (whether I like it or not) that I can never have him as anything more than a best friend (!!!) and that is enough to treasure.  I don’t die inside very often, and when I am dying, I just grin and bear it until I come out the other side.  I’m very lucky to have such a friend who’s been more of a role model for me than my father ever was, than any male figure has ever been.  If you’ve been reading, you know all of this and more, and I don’t need to recap.  But because I’ve been so honest and open about this on here, I don’t want to risk any of T’s feelings being hurt if he reads it – surely he couldn’t help but wonder?  Nothing inappropriate’s ever happened, but the fact that the desire is there, and it’s stronger than I care to admit most of the time, makes me feel like it would be something that could hurt his feelings, or at least question my sincerity towards him.  And I do like him.  Things have gone quite fast, and I think I want to slow down a little bit and just enjoy the moment and be easy with having someone there for me – because I’m scared of rushing myself, I’m scared of rushing our emotions and burning out too quickly, I’m scared of accidentally hurting him but I also want to give myself time to get a grip on my heart.  That makes sense, right?  I don’t want to mess anything up so early on, but I also don’t want to push things too fast without really knowing what we’re getting into.  I deserve a good, stable relationship with a good, stable man, and I’m not going to run away from T – that would be totally counter-productive and I’d be back at square one.  But I’m going to take my time – I have to do this for the sanity of my head and the security of my heart.

I guess that’s the crux of the matter.  I don’t really know how to just be in a relationship with someone.  I definitely overthink things (as Mike has said and as I’m well aware), and I can’t stop my mind and heart running away with me.  How do you do that?  How do you turn your brain off, dial your emotions down?  The longest relationship I’ve had has barely touched two months, and even then I felt somewhat claustrophobic, like I somehow couldn’t let a person get too close to me for fear of getting hurt, for fear of too much responsibility over their emotions and heart, and for fear of showing them all of me only for them to be disgusted, find a host of imperfections, or plain run away.  I don’t know why I feel this as it’s totally irrational, and all my close friends know me for who I am and seem to be perfectly happy with it.  There’s nothing wrong with me.  And yet I’m not confident in believing myself when I say that there’s nothing wrong with me.

And if there’s nothing wrong with me, why am I hiding this blog from him?  Over the last 6 months (has it been that long?!??!) of writing, I’ve really enjoyed it, I’ve made a handful of new friends whom I’ve really appreciated, and I have relished the ability to be so honest and frank.  Unwittingly, by adding T to my twitter (but how could I refuse? And why should I refuse?) I’ve compromised my ability to be candid, to be frank with him, and with all of you.  Shouldn’t he be able to like me for who I am?  My heart is who I am, writing this blog has become a part of who I am, and as well as the main concern of not being able to be totally honest with him, it’s gonna affect my hits 😛 (although ironically, since I took this off twitter on Monday, my views have gone up?!?!? where’s the logic?) But I’m not going to delete my posts about Mike, I’m not willing to censor myself and write differently, so I’m not going to change the way I express myself on this blog because I know that some readers appreciate my candour and can relate.  Plus it’s cathartic for me.  But I really, really don’t want to raise questions in T’s mind about my affection for Mike nor about my sincerity towards him.  I want to see where this relationship leads, I deserve a nice boyfriend (and so does he!) and I want to enjoy spending time with him (albeit relaxing a little bit now after our quite intense, fast beginnings).  I just hope that eventually, he will understand that Mike will always be in my heart, but nothing can ever happen and if things go right in the future, I could hold him in my heart too.  And that’s the best way I can express myself and it still doesn’t quite express my feelings how I want to – but hopefully you understand what I mean, because it’s the best I can do.  Thankyou for reading, and I hope you understand.