Album: Rihanna, Rated R (Mercury)

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The Independent Culture

In no other field of music does the autobiographical imperative wield as much power as it does in R&B.

And while Rihanna's Rated R doesn't exult in such resonances with the alacrity of Whitney Houston's I Look To You, it's a constant itch behind many of these songs: if tracks like "Hard", "Stupid In Love" and "Cold Case Love" weren't written specifically about the contretemps with her abusive former boyfriend Chris Brown, they surely play fast and loose with that event. Which is somewhat difficult to square with the edgy undertow of violent inferences lurking beneath the album's surface, from the Grace Jones-esque leatherclad-dominatrix cover image and references to pain and flagellation, to inflammatory song titles such as "Russian Roulette" and "Fire Bomb" as metaphors for the state of relationships. The slightly robotic, uninflected timbre of Rihanna's vocals works to the benefit of "Wait Your Turn" and "Hard", where it's layered over a swirl of synths. But too much of the album sounds ponderously dystopian. Much better is the Justin Timberlake-produced "Cold Case Love", a slow burner of creepy strings and bongos blended over the piano riff, which takes its time to reach full momentum.

Download this Cold Case Love; Hard; Wait Your Turn