It’s quite interesting to examine Rihanna’s musical history and development. Few people remember that she got her first radio hit in 2005 with the Latin-style dance track, “Pon de Replay.” After that, Rihanna continued scoring number ones with more conventional songs, like the memorable singles off 2007’s Good Girl Gone Bad. Rihanna has evolved with nearly every one of her releases and has still managed to keep herself relevant in the music scene. Her fifth studio album, Loud, released last week, is yet another step in her evolution as an artist.
The first track on Loud, the electro-club track “S & M” is evidence of Rihanna’s willingness to change with the variable and often temporary tastes of mainstream pop fans. While some of Rihanna’s past singles did have an electronic influence, “S & M” is her most club ready to date. It’s a fairly straightforward dance track, and its suggestive lyrics – “Sticks and stones may break my bones/but chains and whips excite me” leave nothing to the imagination. This track’s buzzy synth and catchy melody make it one of the instant standouts on the album, along with the similarly dancy “Only Girl (In The World).” There’s something inherently simple and carefree about these dance tracks – they know what they want to be, and they don’t strive for creative excellence.
Nevertheless, Loud suffers from one of the most common problems associated with mainstream releases. In an effort to crank out hit singles, it isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. The tracks are varied in musical style, leaving some sounding disjointed and out of place. It all depends on context – if these songs were released as individual singles as opposed to a full album, they would be more enjoyable. For an album to flow coherently, there needs to be some cohesion and similarity between the tracks. Loud is not successful in that aspect.
Aside from the aforementioned dance tracks, Loud contains a few songs with Caribbean influences (“Cheers” and “Man Down”) and a couple of ballads. “California King Bed” is quite a good song, using the size of a king bed as a metaphor of the space between two people in a relationship. The piano-driven “Fading” has a great pop melody, but in between all these other songs of varying styles, it has little impact and ends up feeling slightly off-putting.
In the end, Loud will succeed at what it set out to do. The songs are catchy, Rihanna has a great voice for this type of music, and some tracks have interesting, varied instrumentation. It will be popular. Could it be better as an album? Of course, but judged for what it tries to be, and on an individual song by song basis, Loud is a decent listen, even if it leaves the listener wanting more as a whole.