The Barbadian R&B princess gets graphic on the follow up to the massively successful 'Good Girl Gone Bad'. 'Rated R' is packed full of attitude, aggression and eroticism, and there's some pretty good tunes too.
It's difficult to have any sort of discussion of Rated R without mentioning Rihanna's "altercation" with ex-boyfriend Chris Brown last February, particularly considering the sexually explicit and violent themes that seem to purposely pervade this record. It's also difficult not to mention the almost pornographic nature of its inlay card. It is, after all, intended as a package. From its title to its artwork to its disquieting subject matter, if there's one thing music marketers have learned from TV and film, it's that sex and violence sell. Cynical? Perhaps, but don't pretend you weren't thinking it too.
In actuality, you can read whatever you like in Rated R's lyrics, but Rihanna doesn't even have writing credits on the most suggestive tracks, such as lead single 'Russian Roulette'. Production is tight, slick and sexy, and Rihanna's vocals are at their best when she allows her Barbadian accent to come forward. 'Rude Boy' has the most dancefloor potential, with a solid beat and memorable hook, but it's also the most gratuitously overt ("Come here rude boy, boy, can you get it up?/Come here rude boy, boy, is you big enough?" Subtle, huh?).
Having been well and truly adopted by the R&B powers that be in the US, there are as many big names here as you would expect. 'Photographs' is a bland, vapid number written, produced and featuring Will.i.am, which softens Rihanna's usually strong, nasal tones into girly submission, and matters are only made worse by an upbeat Auto-Tuned dance breakdown. Justin Timberlake's writing contribution, 'Cold Case Love', is a slow starter, but it really kicks into gear with the help of some emphatic drums and striking strings.
The sad thing is, Rated R seems to be shock for the sake of shocking, which might be alright if there was even one track as catchy as the likes of 'Disturbia' or 'Umbrella'. As it is, this is a strong album that oozes sensationalism, but never really zings.