Album Remarks & Appraisals:
2009 album from the R&B superstar, her long-awaited follow-up to Good Girl Gone Bad. "Russian Roulette" was written and produced by fellow Def Jam artist Ne-Yo, whose long track record with Rihanna includes the #1 hit "Unfaithful", their Top 10 duet "Hate That I Love You" and the Pop & R&B #1 "Take A Bow". In addition to Ne-Yo, other producers and writers on Rated R include the team of The-Dream and Tricky Stewart, Chase & Status, Stargate, Justin Timberlake and others.
Rated R is the fourth studio album by Barbadian R&B singer Rihanna, released November 20, 2009, on Def Jam Recordings. Recording sessions for the album took place during March to November 2009 at several recording studios, and production was handled primarily byChase & Status, StarGate, The-Dream, Ne-Yo, and Brian Kennedy. Conceived after Rihanna's assault by her then-boyfriend, singer Chris Brown, Rated R features a prominently foreboding and angry tone, in terms of musical and lyrical direction, and incorporates elements of hip hop, rock, and dubstep.
The album debuted at number four on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 181,000 copies in its first week in the United States. It became her third consecutive platinum album in the US and produced five singles that achieved chart success, including Billboard hit "Hard", Dance/Clubhit "Rockstar 101", and international hits "Russian Roulette", "Rude Boy", and "Te Amo". Upon its release, Rated R received positive reviews from most music critics. According to Rihanna's record label, the album has sold nearly three million copies worldwide.
"In every sense, Rihanna is an extraordinary pop star. Still only 21, she has sold 12 million records worldwide, and bagged the longest-running British number one single of the decade with Umbrella - a song with a perfect title for 2007's rainy summer, which, nevertheless, had an oddly stark and far-reaching sound for its time.
Two years on, her new LP nods towards adult material in its title as she comes of age, and also follows her assault earlier this year by ex-boyfriend Chris Brown, the results of which were shown in a horrific leaked photograph, the ghosts of which Rihanna works through here. She sounds bolder and braver as a consequence, pushing her strangeness as a pop star to the next level.
Mad House sets the album's mood well, beginning like a dubstep track before a male voice cuts through the gloom: "Ladies and gentlemen - to those among you who are easily frightened we suggest you turn away now. To those of you who think they can take it, we say welcome." Imagine Michael Jackson's Thriller made terrifyingly modern, with Rihanna's subsequent invitations - "come on, come on in" - both baiting and seducing her listeners.
As the album jabs and stutters onwards, her Barbadian vowels still conjure up the bluntness of reggae delivery, and continue to give her sound directness and edge. The sounds that surround it are more of a mixed bag, however - fantastic when they are icily futuristic on the dark electronica of G4L and Hard, less so on the Latin-flavoured trance of Te Amo, or Slash's rock guitar theatrics on Rockstar 101.
Rated R's lyrics are its calling cards, however, glowering darkly in songs like Fire Bomb, Russian Roulette and Cold Case Love. Many hint towards her relationship with Brown - "what you did to me was a crime"; "I cant wait to see your face when the front windows break", "all I've got are these photographs" - but they take them to the heights of grand, sci-fi cinema, with Rihanna turning into a revenge-hunting, firebrand diva. The stronger she sounds, the more it suits her, too." - BBC
"Even by the standards of the R&B video - never the most opaque or subtle of the visual arts - the promo for Rihanna's single Russian Roulette is striking. It features the singer being gassed, shot, run over, drowned, and tearfully pleading with her captors in a torture chamber: "I'm terrified." This is interspersed with scenes of her curled up in a padded cell: at one juncture in the latter, she appears to be - and, given the provocative nature of the video, let us not be unduly coy here - masturbating.
You could say that making a video that explicitly links sexual desire with abusive violence is a deeply weird thing for the victim of the most high-profile case of domestic abuse in recent memory to do. Nine months ago Rihanna was forced to miss the Grammy awards because her then-boyfriend, singer Chris Brown, attacked her in a rented car, leaving her with a split lip, a black eye and bite marks on her arm. Then again, since the attack, both Rihanna and Brown have persisted in doing some deeply weird things, as if they're engaged in a kind of bizarre competition to see who can come up with the weirdest response. First, she got a gun tattooed on her side, which seemed odd, but trifling compared to what happened next. Brown released a video to YouTube in which he expressed contrition for the incident, while wearing a pendant that read "Oops", presumably intended as shorthand for the entirely fitting and contrite response that is: "Oops! I attacked my girlfriend, leaving her with a split lip, a black eye and bite marks on her arm! Blimey, what am I like, eh?"
Now, raising the bar substantially higher, there's the Russian Roulette video and Rated R, an album that arrives packed with songs in which relationships are linked with violence and criminality: guns are licked, lives flash before eyes, crime scenes are picked over, heads smack against car windscreens. It's worth noting that a lot of the time, the songs cast Rihanna as a ballsy revenger on an abusive male. But they don't always, and it's hard to get through Fire Bomb - "we were criminal," she sings, "as we were burning, the world called the police department," which is certainly one way of putting it - without feeling your jaw head involuntarily southwards, not least at the thought of what Chris Brown might do to top this.
It's difficult to look past the lyrics and focus on the music. Indeed, it's not always clear that Rated R even wants you to do that: a song as musically slight as the ballad Stupid In Love seems to exist primarily to excite the listener's prurience. But when you do, Rated R is revealed as the kind of disparate album people tend to make in the wake of a single like Umbrella, a career-defining global smash hit that can leave artist and producers alike unsure of where to go next. In the absence of a song as undeniable, they try a number of approaches, with varying success. At one extreme, the resemblance of Umbrella's chorus to that of a stadium rock ballad seems to have encouraged Rihanna to cut out the middle-man and just start making stadium rock: cue the awful widdly-woo guitars of Rockstar 101 and Fire Bomb. At the other, however, the desire to escape the single's vast shadow has clearly led some of her collaborators to indulge in feats of impressively risky invention: the hypnotic, dirgey electronic grind of Wait Your Turn, Gangsta 4 Life's druggy, intoxicating mix of backwards drums, minor-key verses and spectral backing vocals.
The album's two highlights may be Hard and Rude Boy, both of which exploit Rihanna's most appealing vocal style, a sulky, icy, monotone - uniquely among the pantheon of showboating R&B divas, Rihanna often sounds as if she's about to roll her eyes and tut. It undercuts the standard braggathon of Hard - "fan mail from 27 million," she offers, in a tone that suggests she's disappointed most of them didn't even bother to include a stamped addressed envelope - and turns Rude Boy's pillow talk on its head: "Come on rude boy, can you get it up?" seems less like a come-on than the impatience of a woman who - tsk! - is going to miss America's Next Top Model if rude boy doesn't hurry up. Rather cheeringly, neither song appears to reference the events of February at all. You can see why Rihanna has chosen to litter her album with apparent allusions to the assault: as people are going to read references into the album regardless, you may as well throw them a bone. But there's more to her than the public's prurient interest in her private life. That you can't tell that more often from Rated R is the album's big flaw." - Guardian
Rolling Stone (pp.87-88) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[O]ne of the best pop records of the year....The songs are etched in somber shades and minor chords, with Rihanna belting over synths and booming beats."
Entertainment Weekly (p.102) - Included in Entertainment Weekly's 'Best Albums of 2009' -- "From bursts of spiky aggression and ragga-tinged rapture to moments of pure, naked vulnerability, it's emerged as a stealth stunner."
Pitchfork (Website) - "Like its lyrical themes, RATED R's tones are decidedly darker than anything Rihanna's done; notably, UK dubstep producers Chase & Status provide production on a few tracks, marking a U.S. pop breakthrough for the bass-riddled genre."
Audio Mixer: Jaycen Joshua.
Photographers: JP Robinson; Simon Henwood; Ellen Von Unwerth.
"Russian Roulette," released weeks prior to Rated R, just hinted at Rihanna's sudden desire to provoke. Even with the realization that it is metaphorical, the song startles with its hesitant gasps, spinning cylinders, and verses that are glacially paced, where a cold piano line and the slight inflections in Rihanna's voice are front and center. And then there's an audible shudder followed by a discharged bullet -- the abrupt end to one of Rated R's most restrained moments. It's not the only instance where Rihanna's rise in fame, combined with being the victim in the decade's highest-profile felonious assault, added up to a perfect-storm scenario for a creative overhaul. Rated R is more like Good Girl Gone Evil, or Abused Girl Full of Vengeful Rage, not Good Girl Gone Bad, where the only casualties were some dishes. The closest the set gets to upbeat pop is "Rude Boy," and by any standard it is stern; needless to say, there is quite a difference between "Can you get it up?" and "You can stand under my umbrella." Much of this daring album is absolutely over the top, bleak and sleek both lyrically and sonically, but it's compelling, filled with as many memorably belligerent lines -- two of which, "I pitch with a grenade/Swing away if ya feeling brave" and "I'm such a fuckin' lady," set the tone early on -- as a rap album made ripe for dissection. "G4L," over a low-slung and sleek production, is the most fantastical of all, in which Rihanna leads a band of homicidal women, opening with "I lick the gun when I'm done `cause I know that revenge is sweet" and "Any mothaf*cka wanna disrespect/Playin' with fire finna get you wet." The breakup song, "Fire Bomb," even though it is also metaphorical, is a close second in terms of lyrical extremity: "I just wanna set you on fire so I won't have to burn alone." Some of the breathers -- the songs that are less intense -- hold the album back since Rihanna sounds detached from them. The one exception is the wistful, bittersweet "Photographs," a rare instance of the singer dropping her guard, but it really sticks out since it is surrounded by material that has her taking the variably authentic roles of abused lover, dominatrix, and murderer. Whether the album seems ridiculous or spectacular (or both), Rihanna's complete immersion in the majority of the songs cannot be disputed. That is the one thing that is not up for debate. ~ Andy Kellman