Critics loved it, it spawned a handful of hit singles, and it showcased a much darker sound than the ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ era; but let’s be honest -Rihanna‘s ‘Rated R’ was pretty dull. And as her first LP since her 2005 début to shift fewer than a million copies in the US, it’s no surprise that a follow-up has been released so quickly.
So here, almost exactly a year later, we have ‘Loud’, a welcome return to accessible urban pop. But don’t let that all-conquering lead single ‘Only Girl (In The World)’ fool you – the provocative bite of ‘Rated R’ hasn’t quite been forgotten yet. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me,” she declares on uncomfortable opener ‘S&M’; a lyric she didn’t write herself (in fact she doesn’t trouble her notepad at all on this album) but one she sings with enough force to make you spare a thought for her blushing mother.
That said, this is a far more listenable set than its predecessor thanks to a good balance of volume-hogging tunes. ‘Cheers (Drink To That)’ borrows a ludicrously random Avril Lavigne sample and against the odds is one of the best tracks on the set, ‘Raining Men’ employs the industry’s new favourite rent-a-rapper Nicki Minaj to help create a Beyonce-esque R’n'B anthem, and next single ‘What’s My Name’ effortlessly sounds like another massive hit thanks to some added swagger from Drake and grade-A knob-twiddling from producer Stargate. And in terms of the voice, Ms Fenty puts in her most impressive performance to date, particularly on the slower tracks. In fact on the hugely-anticipated ‘Love The Way You Lie (Part II)’ she delivers the most affecting vocal of her career so far.
In all honesty ‘Loud’ offers nothing quite as monstrous as ‘Umbrella’, nor is it completely free of tracks that are all swagger, no substance. But this is an important disc for Rihanna – it puts her right back at the top of her game and re-establishes her as one of the most consistently successful pop forces on the planet. Did we mention she’s still only 22?!