Posts Tagged ‘ride or die’

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Rihanna – Rated R. (album review)

November 14, 2009

Here is the album review I promised on my twitter yesterday!  Before I start, once again I want to thank you all for supporting my blog, both my music reviews and my personal entries.  I really appreciate all the views and I hope that you’ll keep it locked here because I ain’t stoppin’! 🙂 Thankyou.

You already know what I think of Russian Roulette, and the other 3 songs we’ve heard already from Rated R.  Generally, they portray a darker, edgier side to Rihanna, both in the production (deeper, more menacing beats) and lyrical content that includes a bit of cursing, a lot of swagger and references to pain, trials and tribulations.  “Russian Roulette”, “Wait Your Turn” and “Hard” are more or less indicative of the album as a whole.  In contrast to her previous smash Good Girl Gone Bad, it’s a lot less uptempo.  The songs are mainly midtempos and ballads, which may alienate a lot of fans who want her faster, danceable material (though “Hard” and “Rude Boy” cater to these needs, and do so well with swagger lyrics – the latter seeing Rihanna come on to a ‘rude boy’ as if she were the guy who is gonna “put it on you”).  However, the slower material allows for two major things: one, to prove that Rihanna can actually sing.  Okay, she’s no Beyoncé, but she holds her own a lot better than many people might expect.  “Russian Roulette” and closing standout “The Last Song” don’t employ lots of vocal runs, but they emphasise strong, clear vocals that prove Rihanna’s got a voice as well as a body – btw. the artwork for this era is immense! – and also go well with the more emotionally searching and vulnerable material.  Two, it allows for Rihanna to delve into her pain, and although it’s never made explicit that she’s referencing her love, abuse and love lost with Chris Brown, songs such as “Stupid In Love” and the epic “Cold Case Love” immediately bring that whole affair to mind.

Not every song is concerned with love lost.  “Te Amo” is about a girl who’s infatuated with Rihanna, and its undulating beats have been beefed up slightly on the album version to make it more hypnotic and possibly (along with “Rude Boy”) the song that would have slotted in nicely on Good Girl Gone Bad.  “Rockstar 101” is backed up by Slash’s guitar work and like “Hard” and “Wait Your Turn”, it demonstrates Rihanna’s confidence in herself – something she perhaps wants to emphasise.  She is fierce!  However, compared to some of the other tracks, “Rockstar 101” falls somewhat flat, as it doesn’t have as much depth as the emotionally-charged midtempos, nor does it ring as true as the harder-knocking songs.  It does demonstrate that Rihanna is not an urban artist – she’s a pop singer who encompasses a range of music. On this album, she combines elements of rock, pop, R&B and melds them together to create a dark album that works for the most part.  And credit goes to her for trying to improve on each album – like Good Girl Gone Bad, the amount of filler on the disc is fairly minimal (in contrast to her first two records) and she’s tried to do something different that has evolved as she has as a person.  So I must applaud that.

A couple of the ballads such as “Stupid In Love” and “Photographs” (which benefits from will.i.am’s synthed beats that kick in midway) are perfectly solid, but pale in comparison to the best tracks.  These are, in a nutshell, first single “Russian Roulette”, “Fire Bomb”, “G4L”, “Cold Case Love” and “The Last Song”.  These all work because Rihanna is putting herself out there vocally and emotionally.  The producers do a fantastic job (praise must go in particular to Justin Timberlake and The Ys’ work on “Cold Case Love”, which shows a gradual building of beatboxing, standard beats, guitars and strings to an epic climax that fades out by itself and underline Rihanna’s pain at a love misfired – “Release me now ’cause I did my time”) more or less throughout, but Rihanna herself carries the songs.  “Fire Bomb” has been compared to something by Kelly Clarkson, but in my opinion it knocks much harder and is a compelling contrast to expectations – most people would expect a club banger from the title, when in fact it’s a slow pop/rock ballad which essentially says “if I’m going down in flames, you’re coming with me”.  “G4L” is one of the darkest songs which shows Rihanna pledging to be “down 4 life”, ride or die until the end.  The off-key tweaks at the beginning signal something mysterious, and the lyric “I lick the gun when I’m done ’cause I know that revenge is sweet” is one of the best opening salvos I can remember.  The track brings to mind the tiny gun tattoos on the sides of Rihanna’s breasts, demonstrating that even if she may be a sweet person on the surface, she’s also a strong and determined one – her attitude is reflected in her music as much as her body art.

“The Last Song” was the track that stood out to me most from listening to the 30-second snippets, and it doesn’t disappoint – it’s a perfect closer to the album, not only in name but in texture also.  It employs a soaring guitar and heartwrenching lyrics, chronicling the realisation of a breakup.  “The sad song ends up being the last song you’ll ever hear.”  Rihanna’s spare vocals almost seem to cry the lyrics throughout the track, and the buildup throughout the song until near the end where all the instruments fade out is done perfectly.  Rihanna said that she wanted Lil’ Wayne and Kings Of Leon to like her album, demonstrating her desired blend of urban and rock. The album is definitely a mélange of styles, but apart from “Hard”, I don’t see enough hip-hop for Weezy to connect with, and the rock elements are nowhere near as indie-pop as Kings Of Leon.  However, the soaring guitars provide something edgier and deeper within the context of a pop album, and the hard-hitting beats and synths knock plenty – the combination of which provide something quite extraordinary and special within itself.  Rihanna should be proud of this record.

Rated R has a focused aggression to it that rings truer than it did on Good Girl Gone Bad. Despite the lack of uptempo smashes, it’s a fantastic record that hopefully will have as much repeat-play value as her previous record.  Whether it’s because of her personal struggles, maturity as a young woman or desire to experiment musically (probably a combination of all three), Rated R shows growth.  I pray that her label doesn’t re-release the album, since it’s perfect as it is and comes across as something sincere, rather than designed to make money as a light pop confection.  Why I’m impressed with Rated R, beyond the simple fact that most of the songs are solid or better, is because it’s cohesive.  All the songs work together to make the album more than the sum of its parts.  It has a big emotional impact, and it sets a musical mood (dark, edgy and yet heartfelt) that doesn’t let up throughout – in her own words, from “Hard”, “that Rihanna rain/reign”.  I didn’t know if she had it in her to best Good Girl Gone Bad, but even if it doesn’t have as many number 1 smashes and addictive beats, Rated R is a musical step forward that I personally value that little bit more.

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the cool kids.

August 24, 2009

Today I had my induction at the hospital (despite the fact I’ve already been working there for three weeks) and I learned such valuable things as the different colours of bins and their bags, that you should never inject someone in the spine with vinchristine, and how to pick up a box.  Occasionally there was a relevant tidbit of information, but I could have quite happily skipped the induction without being any less the wiser.

However, I did make a couple of friends, which made the whole thing worth it!  Two girls, Kim and Hannah, ended up with me outside the building during a cigarette break, and we got talking – it turned out that Kim and I had both worked in the Galleries together (she recognised me from during my time at the Perfume Shop), and the three of us would giggle during the funny bits of the presentations (whether they were intentionally funny or not) and get filthy looks from a spoilsport old woman who was taking the whole thing far too seriously.

We got to know each other during the course of the day and its multiple breaks, and we had a good banter and sense of humour.  And the strangest thing happened… during the end of the lunch break before everyone gathered together again for the afternoon talks, people would come up to our little group and ask if we knew what was going on etc.  They said that they “recognised us from their group”.  I’m not entirely sure why, because we were no more prominently sat than anyone else, and we contributed just as much (read= little) to the morning discussions as anyone else.  But after our while, our group grew and we comprised 5, 6, 7 people who were smiling, laughing and conversing and swapping jokes about the day. It was something curious, but it made the day a bit more light-hearted and bearable in the midst of insights such as “Anger is an emotion”.

I got to thinking.  In our group, there were the obvious computer geeks and social awkwards who didn’t wash as often as they should.  There was a mixture of races, genders and personalities.  There was the annoying guy who kept kicking our chairs and feet as he sat behind us.  Kim commented more than once that it felt like being back at school, and I began to wonder what “group” or clique we would have been?  And it dawned on me that we were the “cool kids” that the others wanted to be around – we were young, lively and chatty, and people flocked to us one by one.

That strikes me as strangely amusing, because at school I never felt that I belonged to a particular clique, let alone that I was particularly cool.  I was brainy at school, so other people used to call me a “keener” because I would study; I was heckled for being gay for a little while; my friends were a little bit geeky.  These things together made me feel as if I were a nerd or a geek, and it’s only looking back that nobody probably thought that I was a geek, because I certainly wasn’t.  Even though they weren’t friendships that lasted, I was on friendly speaking terms with quite a lot of people, I got on with my teachers, and my musical ability and singing and dancing made me a celebrity in the school, singing in the corridors as much as in concerts, and winning a few competitions.  I even used to sign autographs for the younger kids!  We had a prefect slave auction, and I fetched the highest price; I got asked to do duets with other people during my last year or so.  It’s funny, and I didn’t realise until the end of school, but I was one of the ‘cool kids’ and I was popular.  And somehow I managed to achieve that while being myself, which is possibly one of the hardest things of all.

It sounds funny even to write it now, because I never felt popular – not once but twice, I had a massive disillusionment where I realised that the people I would mainly hang around with weren’t nice people, were phony attention-seekers, and just weren’t on the same wavelength as me.  It hurt, and needless to say once I left school, I never made any effort to keep in touch with them, let alone see them again. That part of my life is closed, and I am relieved to be past that, because it caused me a lot of pain and taught me a lot of hard life lessons for a teenager.  The friends from my school with whom I’ve kept up a friendship are all people who weren’t in my year group or original social groups, but instead were people both older and younger than me whom I met through working at the Bookstore in the summer, exploring different cliques and just getting to know people outside of my comfort zone.  Doing that is something I will never regret; all that I regret is that I didn’t do it sooner!

True friends are few and far between; I’m learning to let people drift apart naturally, because that’s healthy – some people are in your life just for a season.  I’m learning that the people with whom you keep in contact and who keep in contact with you are friends you never have to worry about making an effort to keep in touch with; that connection happens naturally.  But what is funny to me is that a lot of my old year group are on Facebook, and they add me as friends.  At first, I would reject them because I had absolutely no desire to be in touch with them and to see what they were doing, let alone for them to be able to browse my information and photos.  But after a while I just felt “fuck it, if they are desperate to add me on Facebook, why not? Let them boost my friend count if that’s all that matters to them.”  And a lot of these people are all friends with one another on Facebook, which makes me LOL because at school, a lot of these people either never spoke to one another (due to the social hierarchies of high school) or hated each other.  And now they are “friends”.   Bish please!!!  It’s so fake to me, and it just reinforces the fact that I don’t need that kind of energy in my life.  I know who my real true friends are, and although I might have been “popular” without realising it, and I may be “popular” now – which is a nice confidence boost and does make me feel cool, in a way – I don’t need to compete with anyone for who’s the most popular or who has the most friends.  I am confident in a crowd and in a smaller group, but I’m also at ease with myself and my own company, and I know that at the end of the day it’s not how many people are in your entourage, but who is in your entourage who really, truly has your back.  I’m complimented that I seem to give off a ‘cool vibe’ and I won’t put it down (certainly that rather than repel people!), but I am more blessed to finally have friends who are truly there for me through thick and thin, and for whom I would ride or die.  It took long enough, but now I feel popular – and my friend count is irrelevant, because my friends count.