Unapologetic is arguably Rihanna‘s most personal album next to 2009’s Rated R, and that’s not exactly a good thing. When the 24-year-old’s not singing about how much money she has, how much partying she does, or how much sex she gets, she’s singing about her relationship with Chris Brown — a tumultuous affair that could easily be avoided by a woman with more maturity, or simply one that doesn’t utterly revel in mindless chaos and drama like RiRi does.
On the boppy “Nobody’s Business” –which is, unfortunately, one of the album’s few highlights– Rihanna and Brown team up to send an important message to the world: stay the fuck outta our bad romance, coz it don’t concern none a y’all. The sheer irony of the pair requesting privacy by recording a duet that mentions making out in a Lexus is astonishing. Rihanna further shows that her so-called private life is unable to be defined by anything but Brown on follow-up track “Love Without Tragedy”, which contains lines like, “Who knew the course of this one drive injured us fatally”, and, “Felt like love struck me in the night / I pray that love don’t strike twice.”
Is this all a cry for help from a conflicted woman unable to resist the pull of her abuser, or a tacky publicity stunt from a pop star who loves to stir the pot? At this point, who even cares? Rihanna’s hardly an introspective singer-songwriter type like Fiona Apple or Liz Phair — she’s a hard-partying hitmaker, but the hits on Unapologetic are few and far between. It’s an almost entirely hookless affair that resembles a Lil’ Wayne mixtape more than it does a record from one of the biggest musical superstars of the past decade. Trashy hip-pop tracks like “Fresh Off the Runway” and “Pour It Up” are surely long lost cuts from Brooke Valentine’s never-released sophomore album, and the woeful “Loveeeeeee Song” goes for a Noah “40” Shebib vibe, but actually sounds closer to an annoying T-pain ballad from 2007. If Lana Del Rey’s Paradise and The Weeknd’s Trilogy are sex soundtracks for stoners and hipsters, then Unapologetic is for wasted teenagers drunk-fucking at a high school party after too many beer bongs.
When listening to the album, one has to wonder how it was even created. It’s not the tight collection of pitch black pop that Rated R was, nor is it the pulsating hit factory of Loud. It just sounds unfocused and haphazardly thrown together, as if the teams of superhuman hitmakers hired to create RiRi’s music didn’t have enough time to write any real hits while racing against the clock to keep up with her one album a year business model, so they tried to pass off Unapologetic‘s lack of catchy hooks or good taste as some kind of rebellious experimentation.
It’s not all negative, though. Rihanna isn’t the Queen of the Hot 100 for no reason, and when she gets it right, she really knocks it out the ballpark. Outside of the sadly amazing “Nobody’s Business”, the Bajan babe triumphs on the sex-soaked “Jump”, which sees her reciting the chorus of Ginuwine’s R&B classic “Pony” over a filthy dubstep beat that proves that the overused genre can still be sizzling hot when used correctly. And “No Love Allowed” serves as the much welcomed sequel to “Man Down”, placing Rihanna firmly in her own lane with its interesting reggae-heavy production and rich vocal delivery. But three amazing songs out of however many is completely unacceptable for a star like Rihanna — who undoubtedly peaked with 2010’s Loud and has been rapidly declining ever since.
As an album, Unapologetic delivers the bare minimum: it has just the right amount of singles to carry it through the next 12 months, when Rihanna’s next studio album will inevitably be rolled into stores. See you again in November, 2013.
Must download: Nobody’s Business, Jump, No Love Allowed.
Skip: Errrthang else.
For fans of: Trashy urban divas, barfing after sex.