Rihanna has been busy gallivanting around the globe on her '777 Tour' - visiting seven cities in seven countries over seven nights, accompanied by over 150 carefully selected fans and members of the press, all flying together across the globe in a Boeing 777. Seven is the magic number of the moment, it would seem - fitting considering her seventh studio album in as many years has just landed.
Unapologetic comes almost exactly a year after 2011's Talk That Talk, which seemed to buckle under the weight of her tendency to churn out a new album whilst still touring the last one - nothing has changed in that respect, so our initial hopes for this one aren't exactly high, save for its lyrical content shedding some light on her soap-operatic relationship with Chris Brown. Chart-conquering 'Diamonds' has paved the way, the fastest-rising single of her career to date, so all that's left to do now is hit 'play' on the full instalment and see what the reigning Princess of Pop has in store for us this time around…
1. 'Fresh Out the Runway'
The Unapologetic album-opener features David Guetta at the production helm - and it's unapologetically Guetta, an absolute banger, although somewhat removed from his traditional club-pleasing formula and straying into the realm of a hip-hop sound. Rihanna predominantly raps over the infectious beat throughout - in a heavily auto-tuned manner. “I betcha wanna know what I'm all about”, she sings in the bridge - you betcha, RiRi. With 'Fresh Out the Runway' we've achieved lift-off in a very positive manner…
Penned by Sia Furler and produced by Stargate, lead single 'Diamonds' was destined for success even in its embryonic stages - and since it was first unleashed in late September it has been one of her biggest hit singles to date. This tune should already be familiar to anyone who has a radio/the internet/ears, but for those unfamiliar it's a mid-tempo soul-pop tune which is very much Rihanna in all the right ways.
3. 'Numb' (featuring Eminem)
'Numb' was written with Kanye West, but far more interestingly sees Rihanna team up with Eminem again following their explosive 'Love The Way You Lie' Part I & Part II duets back in 2010. It's a bit of a non-event until the distorted vocals from Eminem kick in, but they're over all too soon and carry no real lyrical weight - and although the pace-shifting beats are intriguing throughout, it's a serious case of 'what might have been' with this one. Underwhelming.
4. 'Pour It Up'
“All I see is dollar signs, money on my mind”, sings Rihanna. Perhaps that's why she's on an album-per-year mission? Strip clubs, ballin', tales of excess - she's not breaking any kind of hip-hop mould with this one.
5. 'Loveeeeeee Song' (featuring Future)
The synthesised intro is an instant winner, before Future delivers the initial verse - his autotuned drawl verges on irritating, but Rihanna's sublime hushed vocals are on the mark in this slow-jammed love song.
WARNING: The opening beats of this Chase & Status produced tune may make you want to go out and party in an instant. It's okay though, coz the lyrical content will baffle you into staying put… Rihanna is clearly miffed with a man she desires being spoken for. Her way of winning him back? This analogy, with a dollop of dubstep:
“If you want it, let's do it. Ride it, my pony. My saddle is waiting. Come jump on it.”
Charming. Who said romance is dead?!
7. 'Right Now'
Another David Guetta collaboration, which sees the French maestro return to his monotonous yet genius fail-safe formula which has produced global super-hits for so many other popstars. This could well be Rihanna's. It's not a patch on her biggest club hit to date, the brilliant dual-effort with Calvin Harris 'We Found Love', but it's still likely to go far.
8. 'What Now'
Piano. This must mean we're getting to the good stuff lyrically. Rihanna ponders her romantic situation without the assistance of a male counterpart rapping and it's the best track on the album thus far because of it. Tenderly sung verses, massively-produced choruses, lyrical honesty - “I don't know where to go, I don't know what to feel, I don't know how to cry, I don't know why” - this is Rihanna searching for answers and being unable to find them; but sounding exquisite in the process.
9. 'Stay' (featuring Mikky Ekko)
More piano… this can only mean more home-truths. 'Stay' is a ballad, totally minimal-sounding in comparison to the rest of the album thus far. It delves further into the theme of relationship hardship and the confusion which results. Mikky Ekko guests on vocals, combining excellently with those of Rihanna's - the best guest spot on the album thus far.
10. 'Nobodies Business' (featuring Chris Brown)
Speaking of guest spots, look who's here - it's Chris Brown, everybody. You all know the story by now. And guess what? Rihanna doesn't care what you think about it - because she seems to be back with the low-life scumbag, judging by this track. “You'll always be mine, I'll sing it to the world”, is the opening line. The message throughout? Ain't nobody's business but her and her baby. Musically, this Michael Jackson-inspired disco-pop tune actually sounds great - but getting past Rihanna crooning lines such as “your love is perfection” at the man who so violently beat her is just too dam disturbing to bypass.
11. 'Love Without Tragedy' / 'Mother Mary'
Continuing with the genre-hopping nature of the album, 'Love Without Tragedy' segways into 'Mother Mary' as one seamless track which bares its 80s roots proudly. What's love without tragedy, muses Rihanna? If you were left guessing as to what kind of tragedy she's singing about, the line “Love struck me in the night… I pray that love don't strike twice” might give you some idea. Again, it's disturbing to hear her so publicly air her vulnerability in relation to the events of that fateful evening back in February '09 - but musically, it's fantastic. One of the standout tracks of Unapologetic for sure.
12. 'Get It Over With'
Another slowed-down minimal track, heavy on the synths, but overall sounds more like an interlude than an actual track - it just never really takes off.
13. 'No Love Allowed'
The pace is picked up with 'No Love Allowed' - the dancehall-style electro reggae beats sound almost jovial initially, but that mood is dispelled as soon as Rihanna starts singing. Apparently there IS a flip-side to her seemingly unconditional rose-tinted view of Brown, and this is it. “Like a bullet your love hit me to the core, I was fine until you knocked me to the floor, and it's so foolish how you keep me wanting more”. 'Nuff said.
14. 'Lost in Paradise'
Continuing in the vein of roping in only 2012's pop and R&B elite, chart-conquering 'Earthquake' sensation Labrinth has found his way onto Unapologetic, co-writing and producing the closing track, and causing tremors in the process - it's big, brash, and pretty brilliant. A likely future single, and justifiably so.
Overall, Unapologetic is a big step up from the underwhelming Talk That Talk - but again, it just seems a bit rushed. Her sound thankfully deviates from the predictable dance-pop comfort zone she'd grown accustomed to of late, traversing multiple genres across new sonic landscapes to separate her sound from the chart-dominating one she played such a pivotal role in cultivating in the first place. But for its myriad of guest producers and writers and Rihanna hitting a very high standard vocally, it's the lyrical content of Unapologetic that steals the show, and for all the wrong reasons.
Review by Elaine Buckley