Rated R for Red Hot

R.Russian.single.5x5.#17890 After her experiences over the past year, Rihanna comes out with an album that deals with the edgier side of life. The tracks on “Rated R” give Rihanna a chance to venture out and explore different emotions than she did on her last album, “Good Girl Gone Bad,” and not be pigeonholed for having a distinct sound. For anyone else, that might have been a mistake. After all, some of the most iconic artists have trademarks that old fans flock to and new listeners are attracted to. Rihanna, on the other hand, has nothing to lose.

The intro, “Mad House,” warns and welcomes those who can handle what this album has to offer. This leads into the reggae/rap style of “Wait Your Turn.” Co-written by Rihanna and The-Dream, this track sounds as if Rihanna pulled her heart out of chest with her bare hands and left it beating on the table. That type of intensity captured in the heartbeat-like rhythm makes for a track that you can’t tear your ears away from.

Then comes “Hard” featuring Young Jeezy and written by The-Dream. Here, Rihanna has “no fear” – this upbeat yet intense song pulls you in and makes you want to dance as she “shuts it down.” Young Jeezy adds his flavor to this track, which is a nice complement to the hard-edged lyrics. Definitely a diva anthem.

We then arrive at “Stupid in Love.” Co-written with Ne-Yo, you know what Rihanna’s singing about. The slow melodic beat emphasizes the lyrics of “I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid.” The warning from her friends is a reminder of the dangerous situation she allowed herself to get into. A writer who’s worth her salt, Rihanna puts her pain on paper and helps those who need a wakeup call to hear it. (It helps that the song isn’t preachy.)

This is your average “I don’t give damn about you” track. What makes “Rockstar 101” worth listening to is the guitar genius of Slash – his contribution will keep you engaged with everything that’s going on.

Apparently, Ne-Yo is helping Rihanna exorcise her relationship demons, because “Russian Roulette” is another high-voltage track. And, even though it still works that heartbeat-type rhythm, it doesn’t sound as if it’s a rehash of “Stupid in Love.” There’s a place for “Russian Roulette” here, because although it deals with the hardships of love, it’s a different take on it. The gunshot at the end is a bit over the top, though – the lyrics and melody are enough.

“Firebomb” deals with somebody about to explode. Here, Rihanna exposes her heart once again, and deals with the electricity and fiery intensity of a potential relationship. While “Rude Boy” is reminiscent of her usual sound, it’s a fun track that makes you want to groove. The rhyme scheme is reminiscent of Debarge’s “I Like It,” except with an edge. “Photographs,” which features producer and co-writer Will.i.am, is a run-of-the-mill R&B track that leaves listeners feeling as if they have treaded this ground before. The music is lively and the Will.i.am riff is interesting, but it’s not enough to carry the lame lyrics.

“G4L” produced by Chase and Status, brings us back to the dark style of the album. Here, Rihanna raps and sings her pain. She’s at her best when she’s raw and in your face. You’ll also love “Te Amo,” written by James Fauntleroy, as it has a distinct Caribbean sound. It brings us back to Rihanna’s debut album, only with richer, more mature emotion. The beat will have you moving as the ambiguity in gender that is being sung about will find you replaying this track to confirm what you thought you heard. You did.

Here, Justin Timberlake’s writing style works. “Cold Case Song” is the best track on the album, as it encapsulates various emotions with an infectious beat. The musical arrangement takes advantage of lots of instruments, from violins to bass guitars. Rihanna’s vocal range and subtle intensity also blend well together. Produced by the Y’s, it has a similar sensibility to “Te Amo” than any other song, yet it stands on its own. Even if you don’t like Rihanna, you need this song – it’s worth the price of the album.

The album ends appropriately with “The Last Song.” Written by Rihanna, it returns the listener to the dark edge. With intense guitar licks and mournful yet melodic backup singers, this track might be the last love-lost tune that Rihanna sings.

With “Russian Roulette” climbing the charts and stronger tracks yet to be released, this album may be on multiple charts longer than any of the previous three – and deservedly so.

About Donna-Lyn Washington 633 Articles
Donna-lyn Washington has a M.A. in English from Brooklyn College. She is currently teaching at Kingsborough Community College where her love of comics and pop culture play key parts in helping her students move forward in their academic careers. As a senior writer for ReviewFix she has been able to explore a variety of worlds through comics, film and television and has met some interesting writers and artists along the way. Donna-lyn does a weekly podcast reviewing indie comics and has also contributed entries to the 'Encyclopedia of Black Comics,’ the academic anthology ‘Critical Insights: Frank Yerby’ and is the editor for the upcoming book, ‘Conversations With: John Jennings.’

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