Rihanna, O2 Arena, London

Revamped Rihanna's highly rated
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The Independent Culture

In the four years that Rihanna has been in the public consciousness, she has served up some of the most perfectly produced, slick R&B tracks of the last decade. Exploding in 2007 with the ubiquitous "Umbrella", the hits have just kept coming for the 22-year-old from Barbados. Her album Good Girl Gone Bad spawned no fewer than seven singles and sold over eight million copies.

But a lot has happened since, most notably being assaulted by former boyfriend Chris Brown and the subsequent split and trial. She went into the studio to record her next album, Rated R, and a new Rihanna emerged. Gone was the R&B princess, in her place was someone tougher, edgier, angrier.

And this can be seen in her latest live show. The night is stacked with military references and props. There are tanks, guns, armies.

After a powerful start with the brilliant "Russian Roulette", the show fails to engage. One of her best songs, "Disturbia", which sees the stage overtaken by scary bird men on stilts, could be magnificent. But she just sort of saunters around them and barely sings over the backing track. It's such a waste.

"Rockstar 101" is pretty cringey, as Rihanna clambers onto a hydraulic podium and pretends to play electric guitar while her backing band (who incidentally look like the Scorpions) go wild. And if you think straddling a pink tank would be a strange place to lead the crowd in an acoustic singalong of Oasis's "Wonderwall", well, you'd be right.

Despite a lacklustre start, she manages to turn the show around. "Rude Boy" finally has her gyrating around the stage like a global R&B superstar should. On "Rehab" and "Take a Bow" we get to hear her exceptional vocals and an encore that includes people's favourite, "Umbrella", is magnificent.

The main problem with the show is not her but the production. Apparently, it's called the Last Girl on Earth tour but there's no overriding narrative, just a mix-match of "controversial" images and scenes that don't make any sense. One minute there's a video of her onscreen being implanted with microchips on an operating table, the next it's a cartoon of A-bombs dropping onto dystopian scenes.

For a romantic, harmless song called "Te Amo", which includes lyrics like "Te amo/She says to me, I hear the pain in her voice/Then we danced underneath the candelabra" there are naked dancers (save for a bit of tape) hanging off giant metal machine guns. It's absurd. You can almost hear the talks between directors and choreographers: "What's dramatic?" "The apocalypse." "Get that in. What's shocking?" "Guns. And naked people." "Here's an idea..."

It's so desperate to be scandalous and controversial, it ends up almost comical and what is obviously a very expensive show is cheapened.

It's still a hugely enjoyable evening. Rihanna's a great performer, has fantastic songs and can work a crowd. Maybe in the future she could give some of the tacky stage props a miss and have enough faith in the music to realise it might just be enough.