Posts Tagged ‘naked’

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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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dream / nightmare – smurf exercise class.

February 26, 2010

I just woke up, and although I have work in a bit (I need to be dressed, teeth brushed and on the bus stop in 45 minutes, ideally), I just had to blog this dream, it’s made me feel really strange.  What’s worse is that it’s the closest thing I’ve had to a nightmare, and you will all probably think it is the most hilarious dream out of all of those that I’ve blogged.  Yet it’s left me with a really uneasy feeling… :S

I was the same age as I am now, but it was like we were back at school, and we were all in changing rooms getting changed back into our clothes after what was ostensibly a swimming lesson.   I was keeping myself to myself, but in the same changing room there was a group of 3 or 4 guys from my year group at school, one of whom was R whom I used to have a massive crush on back in the day.  Anyways, it was meant to be his birthday, and he was having some sort of party, and they were talking (the group of guys were all twats, essentially) and discussing how much they were going to drink, what they were going to do, who they were going to try and sleep with etc. I kept my head down and tried to get changed, but for some reason they were looking at me and asking why I was getting dressed so slowly, did I like being naked with them, I had no chance of anything happening, I should hurry up because I was keeping them all waiting.  I was getting changed as quickly as I could, but when I looked up, they were all dressed and suddenly a teacher came in and informed us that if we didn’t hurry up, the last 6 people might not be able to fit on the bus as there was limited space.

After that, I remember some sort of classroom game, but only vaguely.  What happened next was that my school colleagues appeared to vanish, and were swiftly replaced by the people on my careers guidance course at uni.  Our tutor, Mary, came out and split us into our two practice groups (which is how we’re split up for quite a few of the activities on the course) and told us to go outside, where we’d receive details of the task we would have to prepare.  We all crowded outside, a lot of people were chattering excitedly but I was feeling somewhat melancholy after my earlier experience, so I was still quiet.  Outside it was a replica of my patio at home, but a lot larger in order to be able to fit 23 people sitting around the edge.  Mary stood in the middle and told us that one member from each group had to be a Smurf and entertain a group of youngsters while also doing some sort of exercise instruction class.  I was immediately horrified, while several members of the group laughed.  Then Mary announced that she had chosen one person from each of the two groups to perform this task, while everyone else was going to role-play being the children and watch in the audience.  I don’t remember who she chose from the other group, but from my group she chose me.

I was mortified, and I sat still as the group became more excitable.  I wandered around the outside of the patio trying to evade the task, but the group of my friends started heckling me and told me to be a good sport and have a go.  I was so uncomfortable, I didn’t want to dress as a Smurf, and I didn’t want to expose my body. I didn’t want anyone to laugh at me. Plus, it was also a ridiculously stupid activity, and would be of no value to the kids, and I don’t know why Mary would have selected people (let alone me) as normally she would let us come to a democratic decision. So this made me feel pretty upset, and as I stood in front of the group of my friends, I had to fight back tears, and I started to dance awkwardly before abruptly stopping and pleading with someone to swap with me.  Mike got up and stood next to me and put his arm round me and told me it was going to be alright, that it was just a bit of fun and not to take things so personally.  I felt a little better for that, but I still really didn’t want to be a Smurf. I asked if someone would please swap with me, but the group was too busy talking and laughing, or watching the other group’s Smurf, to really pay attention.  Finally, my friends started paying attention to me, and I repeated the idea of swapping out of being a Smurf, since I didn’t feel up to it. My friends started going “aww” and “it’s only fun!”, but then I realised that Mike was volunteering to swap with me.  I was not happy about this, because I would have liked to sit and gossip with Mike (as we usually do), but since he was the volunteer essentially saving me from a fate of wearing a nappy and being giant and blue, I let him take over and sat in the corner.  Immediately, Clare put her arm around me and told me not to worry and just to relax and enjoy myself, but I felt somewhat disappointed in myself that I didn’t have the strength to perform a task I had been chosen for.  I looked up and was again horrified by what I saw: Although Mike’s face was normal, he was now stripped to his underwear, grinding while my group were all heckling, laughing, whooping, trying to reach out and touch his body which was ridiculously thin, muscled and tanned to a deep bronze like that of a body builder (but slim) – in reality, I have not seen Mike naked but I am quite confident his body is not like this! I was horrified and as Clare and some of the women in the group started to grope his underwear (which seemingly fell away), I began to cry with embarrassment that I had been chosen for such a task, that I couldn’t do it, that Mike had had to save me and yet was enjoying being naked and playing the clown in front of the group (which I thought was utterly humiliating and sorta disgustingly prurient), and then I woke up.

Very bizarre. 😦

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eu te amo Brasil!

August 20, 2009

I’m feeling lazy tonight, and going through my old Skunk Anansie records is like rediscovering a world I knew, then buried and forgot about.  So I thought I would do a bit of a picture blog and rhapsodise about a country I am dying to visit: Brazil.  I am an avid follower of Made In Brazil which gives me all the fashion, music, modelling and current affairs news related to the country that I might ever need.  Why do I have such affection for Brazil?  Well, I am sure part of it is the animated go-go party scene, the sensuality of the beaches (the fact the weather there appears to be so perfect and tropical highlights all the more the relative misery of the UK skies), the exciting baile funk scene which sounds like nothing else.  Its religious, musical and sporting heritage are something I am dying to sample. But let’s be real.  Brazil hosts a lot of fashion shows, by all the top designers: you name them, they’ve got a catwalk set up there.  And therefore, they’ve got a lot of models.  Hot, male models. Supermodels. Hot.  Really, I can’t stress this enough – just hot. I wanted to express my admiration for these guys, their physiques are amazing (bodies I dream of having, as my own and also beside me) and their beauty is pretty much unparalleled.  Be prepared to drool. 😉

Renato Ferreira

Renato Ferreira & Bernardo Velasco

Jesus Luz

Bernardo Velasco

Evandro Soldati

Edilson Nascimento

and last but not least… my future husband:

Rafael Verga

rafael collage sig

… *wipes self down* I will have to try to be lazy more often.  I love you Brazil!!!

and you’re welcome. 😉