Talk That Talk
As hard as it is to believe that this is Rihanna's sixth album in as many years, it cannot be denied that she has made herself a ubiquitous mainstay in contemporary pop culture.
Always managing to keep her audience engrossed both sonically and visually, Rihanna's unique ability to acclimatise to the ever-changing tides of pop culture while also forging her own identity and style in the process, has kept her firmly atop the charts in recent years.
Rihanna's musical evolution has been highly eclectic as well as deeply personal; her albums serve as telling character studies as they document different phases of her life and stages of her career.
Her debut Music of the Sun and the follow-up A Girl Like Me were tame introductions to the fresh-faced teenage Jay-Z protégé, while her third release Good Girl Gone Bad marked the first signs of her development as an artist: along with an iconic new haircut came an experimental dance sound and the colossal hit single Umbrella.
Following the infamous Chris Brown incident, Rihanna's personal anguish was translated into an edgier musical persona. No longer content with being a squeaky-clean label puppet who adhered to the status quo, she presented us with a dark image of a woman scorned. This change spawned the most critically acclaimed album of her career, the ominous and angry Rated R, which saw her dabbling in genres such as rock and dubstep.
Her next album, Loud, marked the beginning of a more positive rebirth. As Rihanna ventured into lightheartedly upbeat dance-pop territory, she shed her hardened exterior and harnessed a new-found sense of unapologetic feminine empowerment.
Her latest album Talk That Talk doesn't exhibit the dramatic reinventions of some of her previous efforts; this time around she sticks to the playful and vibrant tone that she last left us with.
The Calvin Harris-produced dance anthems We Found Love and Where Have You Been are album gems that possess international appeal in this David Guetta-dominated era where dance music is de rigueur. Rihanna's continuation of Loud's pop-dance theme certainly makes sense; euro-friendly club fare is most definitely her strong suit.
Talk That Talk, You Da One and Roc Me Out all have the winning combination of made-for-radio pop sensibility, contagious hooks and West Indian nuances that we have come to identify as classic Rihanna, along with enough catchy "eh-eh's" to solidify their places in our collective musical consciousness for the next year.
This album is certainly Rihanna's most titillating and suggestive work to date, seeing her push boundaries even further in terms of shock value. However, her almost hyper-reliance on provocative content becomes repetitive and tiresome at times; some of the innuendos on songs such as Cockiness (I Love It) and Birthday Cake can come off as forced and gimmicky.
At times, Talk That Talk makes one wonder whether Rihanna could have benefited from taking time off to develop herself as an artist as opposed to hurriedly churning out yet another yearly offering. While the quantity-over-quality approach is a sound strategy that hasn't failed her yet in terms of chart domination and has certainly allowed her to talk the talk, the pressure to come up with something different (and of substance) for her next album begs the question: can she walk the walk?