Judgement Day: Pop Heaven or Hell? (Rihanna – “Talk That Talk”)

Rihanna – “Talk That Talk”

Released on 11/21/2011 – Buy on iTunes: Standard Edition | Deluxe Edition

“Talk That Talk” Deluxe Edition (Cover)

This week, Judgement Day has finally come for Rihanna’s latest album: “Talk That Talk“.

Before my first listen I must admit that I was feeling some skepticism. Drawing early compaisons to the likes of Madonna’s controversial 1992 album: “Erotica”, it seems that “Talk That Talk” (at least in my mind) had some big, media-hyped shoes to fill. (“Erotica” is probably my favorite offering from Her Madgesty).

I’ll also confess that while I’ve always grown to love her infectious singles, and the occasional other album track, I have never truly found myself obsessed with any of her previous albums from start to finish. I say with absolutely no disdain or dislike that for me, Rihanna has always been a singles artist.

Based on the hype I’ve been reading about this album, I felt I needed to give it a spin and a fair chance to impress me. Let’s find out if RiRi really can put her money where her mouth is.. track by track:

  • The album’s second single: “You Da One” opens the set with it’s laid back, island-style swagger. This sounds like more of an attempt at a summer hit than a single leading into the holiday season. Borrowing from the dub-step trend, the beats are strong, distorted and experimental but arranged into a midtempo urban jam. On the first listen, I admit that I completely hated this track, but like most other Dr. Luke productions it’s grown on me with repeated listens. Catchy, but far from a standout.
  • Where Have You Been” is an epic club track which is slightly reminiscent of 2006 RiRi’s “Don’t Stop The Music”. Over an “American Life” era Madonna-like acoustic guitar track, a sick beat and many trance-like synth elements, Rihanna coos: “Where have you been? Cause I never see you out.. Are you hiding from me, somewhere in the crowd?” The song is rather catchy and seems like it would be a huge club hit, but wouldn’t be my choice for a single. If I ever find myself in a night club again and a DJ spins this song, however, I will scream like a bitch and teleport to the dance floor!
  • Already a huge international hit, the Calvin Harris written & produced “We Found Love” is an explosion of energy and euphoria. On the verse, she laments: “Yellow diamonds in the light, and we’re standing side by side, as your shadow crosses mine, what it takes to come alive, it’s the way I’m feeling I just can’t deny, but I’ve got to let it go…” Harris’ production is overwhelmingly incredible in parts. Every time I listen to this song I fall a little more in love with it. Lyrically, it’s one of my favorite songs that Rihanna has released to date and sounds like none of her previous work. An obvious first single and a GREAT one!

  • Reminding us that she was his discovery, Jay Z appears on the title track: “Talk That Talk“, a song with lyrics that rival Rebecca Black’s “Friday” in simplicity. While music has definitely changed over the years, a title track is still seen as something of a feature when you listen to an album. It indicates that the artist felt this song was important enough for it to serve as a “spokesperson” for this body of work. While great as an album title, “Talk That Talk” is rather uninspiring as an album track and certainly isn’t sonically or lyrically representative of the majority of the songs included.

  • Cockiness (Love It)” is a mish-mash of sexual innuendo over a pulsating beat. (“Suck my cockiness, lick my pursuasion..”, “Show me the queen of hearts, but I can be the queen of your body parts..”) I presume it’s songs like this one that have earned the album comparisons to Madonna’s “Erotica” but honestly, the skizophrenic production and vocal style change-ups are more similar to Beyonce’s more hip-hop based tracks or something from Christina Aguilera’s 2009 album: “Bionic” with a tiny hint of Janet Jackson. This song definitely has hooks, but personally I find it a tad boring. A little more flow/melody in the instrumental would have been beneficial but it’s growing on me.

  • Birthday Cake” is yet another experimental hip-hop banger about oral sex; well it’s about sex in general but we don’t get past the foreplay. Besides the obvious lyrical similarities, this really does just feel like a re-telling of “Woohoo” by Christina Aguilera but seems to be better received thus far. In a particularly strange choice, the track fades out after a little over a minute, after seemingly just getting us started and ending with RiRi singing “Ooh, I wanna f**k you right now..”. I’m gay and even I’m thinking: “What a tease!”
  • The album thus far has been floor burners and window steamers, but “We All Want Love” takes a step in yet another direction, slowing it down and heading into 90’s pop rock anthem territory. The title says it all, this is a pleasant, inspirational sing-along about how we all just want to be loved, stating “Some say love ain’t worth the buck, but I’ll give every dime I have left..” It’s a really different vibe for RiRi, and it’s pretty great! I could actually see this as a great dark horse single!

  • With “Drunk On Love” things continue looking up; way up! This is one of the album’s shining stars and has some of Rihanna’s strongest vocals on the album (“Take me away, I wear my heart on my sleeve, You know I’m drunk on love, nothin can sober me up..”). It samples “Intro” by English Indie band: The xx and sonically it has a certain ominous, minimal, late 80’s synthpop vibe. Gorgeous!

  • Next up is the disappointing-by-comparison “Roc Me Out“. It sounds a bit like “Rude Boy: Partie Deux” in both the production and the vocal melodies. It’s not bad really, but after a couple of real home runs it feels a little lackluster to hear a clone of an old RiRi song. The highlight for me is when Rihanna sings “Take a peek at the girl I hide.. I’ll let you in on a dirty secret, I just want to be loved” in a song that is otherwise all about sex and seduction.
  • Watch N’ Learn” seems to be getting a lot of buzz from fans on Twitter. To me, it sounds like another Beyonce-style jam but I’m not sure Beyonce has ever recorded any songs that were this suggestive lyrically. Yes, if you were wondering, this is yet another urban jam about both giving and receiving oral sex (“I’mma do it do it do it, ‘Til you can’t take no more, ‘Til my lipstick ain’t up on my face no more..”). This officially becomes the third thing about Rihanna’s sexual tastes that we’ve come to learn over the years from REPEATED lyrics asserting so (see: rough sex, well-hung men).
  • Suddenly our regularly scheduled program is interrupted by a new Leona Lewis single; “Farewell“. Oh, wait… The album’s token adult-contemporary jam (see: “California King Bed”) closes the Standard Edition of the album. Sadly, this is a bittersweet pseudo kiss-off song that isn’t particularly awful nor amazing and doesn’t leave me the slightest bit in awe. That being said, I do think it’s a beautiful song but something in the delivery falls flat for me.

Had I ended here and not gone with the Deluxe Edition, I have to say I would be conflicted. There have been some “wow” moments but lots of head scratchers too.. Could it be my first album to be…

Luckily for everyone involved, I got the deluxe version!

  • The first bonus track: “Red Lipstick” gets the filthy thing right!! It’s dark, sleazy and hard and would have fit nicely on 2009’s “Rated R”. Unlike previous tracks delving into this sexual territory, it doesn’t sacrifice melody in the music. It also features one of the album’s most daring lyrics “Let me grab my dick while you sit on top”. While I tend to prefer something slightly less blatant lyrically, I admit this song is a guilty pleasure and I love it!
  • Do Ya Thang” channels a bit of Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body” but is actually better! Where “Body” is among Carey’s worst singles, I would think “Do Ya Thang” was among Rihanna’s best. Sadly, however, it’s a bonus track and therefore, not likely in the running. Truthfully this is an amazing r&b jam and should replace the title track or “Roc Me Out” on the standard edition of the album. RiRi’s cute and confident on this track, telling her man (maybe for the first time ever in a pop song) that she doesn’t care if he strays with other women ’cause she knows he’s all hers at the end of the day. I have to admit, though I suspect not many will agree with me, that this is my FAVORITE song on “Talk That Talk”.

  • Last but not least, we get to the greatest vocals that Rihanna has ever recorded and the only song on the album that could compete for the honor of being my favorite track. This one should make all haters take a step back and re-assess their opinions of her vocal ability. The final bonus track: “Fool in Love” continues the great pop tradition of confessing your boyfriend-ly sins to “Mama” and “Papa” (See Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Madge’s “Papa Don’t Preach” and Britney’s “Criminal” among others..) and IS F**KING BREATHTAKING! I honestly didn’t think RiRi was capable of these vocals. Powerful and running over with emotion and desperation, `Fool In Love`also features some spectacular electric guitar solo work and some great lyrics. My only complaint is about the boring, fade-out ending (also used on other tracks to less disdain). Fade-outs are anti-climactic and this song deserved something better.
  • Yeah Yeah, there’s a “remix” of We Found Love” included on the deluxe edition too, but it’s nothing new. It’s simply an extended version of the original. I don’t really care for bonus tracks that are remixes of album tracks in general, but if you’re gonna include a remix – then include an ACTUAL remix. Another 3 or so minutes of beats isn’t going to sell me on this one over the original – in fact, quite the opposite.

THE VERDICT: It’s another year and another decent Rihanna album with some REALLY great single-worthy tracks. While the album has several highlights, it’s “everything but the kitchen sink” sound isn’t terribly cohesive at times, and in my personal opinion it falls flat in many of the areas it’s getting the most buzz for. The strongest tracks in my opinion are the ones that aren’t so concerned with pushing sexual boundaries. I looks at all of the comparisons drawn here (Madonna, Beyonce, Mariah, etc.) and wonder what we would get if Rihanna would take a page from their books and spend a couple of years making and developing an album, rather than a couple of months.

Ultimately “Talk That Talk”, despite the moments where it tries just a bit too hard to push an envelope that’s already been repeatedly pushed, is…

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