Rihanna's last album, 2009's Rated R, found the Barbados-born diva trading umbrellas for f-words as well as mingling sexual and violent imagery in a blistering barrage of angry songs. A year later, the tide of this 22-year-old's rage has mostly ebbed. What remains is sex.
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On "Fading," Rihanna realizes she isn't content to stay with someone whose words and actions don't line up: "You say you love me/But this isn't working/Stop thinking you can run over me/ … Go on, be gone." Isolated lines on the otherwise sensual " Only Girl (In the World)" capture a woman's longing to be treated right ("Want you to make me feel like I'm the only girl in the world/Like I'm the only one that you'll ever love").
"Raining Men" warns a guy that the singer's not an easy mark, sexually speaking. (The rest of the album begs to differ.) "Complicated" sorts through the mixed emotions of an up-and-down relationship. "Man Down" narrates, reggae-style, the sad story of a woman who regrets shooting and killing a man. Among other things, she now fears jail and prays for mercy ("Oh Lord, a mercy now") as sirens sound in the background.
Album opener "S&M" sets the sexual tone for Loud. "Pain is my pleasure," Rihanna coos before bragging, "I may be bad, but I'm perfectly good at it/Sex in the air, I don't care, I love the smell of it." Then she adds, "Sticks and stones may break my bones/But chains and whips excite me."
"What's My Name" features Drake, who wastes no time before degrading a woman with a "compliment" regarding her oral sex skills. Rihanna later responds, "Not everyone knows how to work my body/ … Let's explore your talent/ … Every door you enter, I will let you in." Similarly sexual double entendres inhabit "Only Girl (In the World)." Guest contributor Nicki Minaj makes graphic references to both her own anatomy and that of a man who wants to have sex with her on "Raining Men." "Skin" celebrates a man and a woman getting naked and having sex. "California King" ponders how a woman could be so physically close to a man yet so emotionally distant. She doesn't get an answer, but she does quip about evidence of their sexual relationship on the sheets the next morning. The woman also equates asking the man if he loves her with emotional weakness.
"Cheers" enumerates all the things that deserve another round of drinks (specifically, Jameson Irish Whiskey), including the repeated line, "Don't let the b‑‑tards get you down/Turn it around with another round." Elsewhere, "n-gga," "b‑‑ch," and a handful of f- and s-words are partially censored.
"Love the Way You Lie (Part II)" is a follow-up to the hit duet Rihanna shared with Eminem. She gets the spotlight this time around, detailing (again) a violently dysfunctional relationship. "Glass is shattered from the fight," Rihanna sings. "In this tug of war, you'll always win, even when I'm right." Eminem's contribution is, if anything, even more intense than what we heard in the first song ("You hit me twice, yeah, but who's countin'/I may have to hit you three times, I'm startin' to lose count").
A year ago, Rihanna made the news for wrapping her unclothed upper torso in barbed wire for the artwork accompanying her single " Russian Roulette." Then came the fierce, Grace Jones-esque glare she delivered on the stickered disc Rated R. That album cover may as well have been labeled, "Don't tread on me!"
A quick glance at the liner notes for Loud (and even a quick glance isn't advised, actually) reveal a Rihanna whose image is as soft and sensual as her Rated R image was edgy and angry. She pouts like Marilyn Monroe and crawls through beds of roses or on the beach wearing very little. (Her arm obscures only part of her bare breast in one shot.)
Those photos perfectly mirror the content of the 11 songs she sings. With few exceptions, Rihanna drives home the message that sex is not just the best thing in life, it's the only thing.
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Peaked at No. 3 on Billboard's album chart. Singles "Only Girl (In the World)" and "What's My Name?" hit No. 1 on the Hot 100.
November 16, 2010