Barbados' most famous export, Rihanna is the latest pop artist to pick up on the ever-increasing trend to integrate 90s dance vibes into her modern R&B style. Though the singer herself is as beguiling as ever and occasionally charms with her exotic wiles, 'Loud' lacks her usual ability to get out of your seat on a Saturday night.
Like her last offering, 'Rated R', on her fifth album, Rihanna once again concentrates on all things physical, actually opening 'Loud' with a track called 'S&M'. Kicking things off with a simple Ibiza-friendly synth, there's no prizes for guessing what that song's about (eg. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me"). But where 'Rated R' had its underlying themes of violence and self-destruction, here the overt sexual references feel even more gratuitous, playing up to what sometimes seems like an unspoken competition to see which female artist can be the raunchiest and most controversial. Getting equally graphic on the sexy 'Skin', thankfully its slow, atmospheric tones perfectly suit its subject matter, making it seem less contrived, at least.
All that aside, vocally, Rihanna is on top form, even if she has been noticeably tweaked in places. As usual, she is at her strongest where she embraces her Barbadian heritage, her island accent coming through strongly in the Caribbean flavoured 'Man Down' and the Drake duet 'What's My Name?' While Nicki Minaj certainly adds some energizing hip hop swagger to 'Raining Men', a sample from Avril Lavigne's 'I'm With You' was only ever going to make the already exasperating drinking anthem 'Cheers (Drink To That)' even more irritating. It's telling that the most affecting track here is Part II of the hit Eminem collaboration 'Love The Way You Lie'. Possibly even more potent than its predecessor, the pair continues the story of a mutually abusive couple, evolving from the simple piano intro to the distorted crashing drums and rap middle eight.
For all its stylish production and of-the-minute names, there's no standout tracks here. There's none of the rage or passion of 'Rated R' and none of the sass and stomp of 'Good Girl Gone Bad'. From anyone else this might have been a passable pop album. From Rihanna, it's quite the disappointment.