Tuesday, 6 December 2011
Talk That Talk
released 21 November 2011 on Mercury
It always used to be said – often by the artist himself, as it happens – that James Brown was The Hardest Working Man In Show Business. Following Brown’s passing, that title is now presumably up for grabs, but there can be little argument as to who The Hardest Working Woman In Show Business is currently.
Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty released her fifth studio album, Loud, just over twelve months ago and is already back with another record of original material: Talk That Talk. As well as recording an entire LP in 2011, Rihanna has released four singles from Loud and two already from Talk That Talk. She’s on the new Coldplay album, Mylo Xyloto, and she provides guest vocals on the latest Drake single, Take Care. In her downtime, she’s also found time for a world tour, which doesn’t finish until three days before Christmas. Don’t worry though, she’s got another tour coming in 2012.
If you’re wondering how she does all this, you’re not alone. However, you don’t get to become one of the biggest singers in the world without a good deal of hard graft. Commercially, Loud was the zenith of her career thus far, cementing her place as a global superstar and making her the leading light of Caribbean-tinged dance pop.
Unsurprisingly, the eleven tracks that comprise Talk That Talk were recorded in a number of different studios, yet the album still feels like a cohesive whole. More often than not, the music Rihanna makes is thrilling and exciting; the kind of music in which you can lose yourself and fully focus on having a good time. There’s also a strong thread running throughout Talk That Talk, namely sex.
Rihanna has never exactly been a shrinking violet, but she has – or, more likely, a team of producers, managers and PR experts have – realised that she tends to be more successful the raunchier she is. S&M, the third official release from Loud, caused controversy with its allusions to whips and chains, but a good deal of the songs from Talk That Talk are even more likely to provoke outrage amongst the cosseted and fearful.
Almost from the off, you’re bombarded by a hyper-sexualised, extroverted character. Rihanna’s big book of euphemisms was clearly mined of all its goods a while ago, so she’s had to resort to the unsubtle and entirely unerotic. Roc Me Out informs the listener Rihanna has, “been a bad girl, Daddy”, and gives instructions to, “Get my head in the ground and my feet in the clouds”. In Watch n’ Learn, she’s only too keen to share that she’s going to, “do it, do it, do it on the floor”. The most laughable, however, is Cockiness (Love It), whose first line is, “Suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion”. What could she possibly mean?
The end result is that 38 minutes of Talk That Talk can make sex seem like an arduous chore. Bizarrely, on Birthday Cake (sample lyric: “lick the icing off”), after only a minute, Rihanna sings, “I wanna fuck you right now”, and the track abruptly fades. It’s as if she thought she was being clever with her parade of “implied” horniness, yet vocalising it so explicitly is giving the game away, so the song has to end there and then. She’s fooling no-one though. Talk That Talk may as well have a track entitled Put Your Erect Penis Into My Lubricated Vagina and the sentiment would be signposted no clearer and the overall effect would be no less of a turn-off.
For all these outré displays, Talk That Talk does have some heart. Whereas Britney Spears’ recent album, Femme Fatale, was dead-eyed and a little chilling, Rihanna, like her Swedish namesake Robyn, reminds us that fembots have feelings too, even ones that are almost permanently on heat. We All Want Love puts an urban twist on some stadium indie that recalls Oracular Spectacular-era MGMT, and opener You Da One would be in danger of being perceived as fluffy if it weren’t for the hook-laden melodies and heavy, spluttering beats.
It’s easy to criticise Talk That Talk but it’s actually a fun and enjoyable record. Sure, it’s the aural equivalent of dry humping a little too often, but it’s an ultra-modern pop album that shows she’s ahead of the competition (especially considering Gaga’s disappointing Born This Way). There are a number of highlights, particularly the spacey atmospherics overlaid on The xx’s Intro to create Drunk On Love. Elsewhere, the fingerprints of Calvin Harris are all over the simple yet effective We Found Love, and the sleek, stylish title track – featuring Jay-Z – feels genetically engineered for chart success.
Overall, Rihanna seems to adhere to the mantra of “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” and more often than not, it stands her in good stead. Talk That Talk is also more interesting when she doesn’t come across as completely driven by sex, though it’s not difficult to see why the album would have such a focus (indeed, a large proportion of this review has spoken about that very topic). In the here and now though, Talk That Talk is a great record that’s sure to be everywhere until… well, until Rihanna releases her next album probably. See you here again same time next year?