It’s hard these days to become — and remain — a truly viable pop singer. For every artist like Beyoncé, who can create a media frenzy when releasing a new album, there are scores more like Ciara, who has lost almost all of the buzz she held five years ago.
Attempting to remain viable may include constantly producing new content, which may be why Rihanna is releasing Loud, her fifth album since 2005.
Loud blends some of the edgier, bad girl aspects of 2009’s critically-acclaimed Rated R with the commercially successful sounds last found on 2007’s Good Girl Gone Bad. The clearest example is lead track “S&M,” which combines lines like “sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me” with a pulsating beat from Stargate, the producers behind previous Rihanna hits “Don’t Stop the Music” and “Rude Boy.”
Stargate also contributes to the album’s first two singles, “Only Girl (In the World)” and “What’s My Name?” Both songs, especially “Only Girl,” rely heavily on European-styled dance production. With these tracks being used as the singles, listeners would likely expect an album filled with similar songs.
Those listeners are in for a surprise.
Outside of the Stargate tracks, Rihanna experiments with a variety of different sounds. “Cheers (Drink to That),” which features a sample of Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You,” is a rock-influenced bar song, while “Man Down” features some Caribbean influences not felt from Rihanna since 2005’s Music of the Sun. Both songs also find Rihanna singing in a lower register and with a noticeably thick accent. Elsewhere, “California King Bed” finds Rihanna giving a remarkable vocal performance over gentle strumming guitars. As far as Rihanna’s repertoire of ballads goes, it may be one of her strongest selections.
Rihanna also brings in some heavy-hitting rappers for three of the album’s tracks. “What’s My Name?” features Drake in a rap that is fun, but ultimately unnecessary (Drake’s rap was originally intended for a remix of the song). “Raining Men” pairs Rihanna with a more compelling partner: Nicki Minaj. Minaj’s quirky rap adds some needed personality to the song. Finally, the album closes with a haunting, effective sequel to the Eminem/Rihanna collaboration “Love the Way You Lie,” with Rihanna taking the lead on this version of the song.
Ultimately, Loud should keep Rihanna on the charts for at least another year. Its diverse set of songs will likely help with future singles. As an album, though, it does feel largely like something Rihanna could have made a few years ago.