Rihanna really raises the bar in her fourth record, which features collaborations with Ne-Yo, StarGate, Tricky Stewart, Justin Timberlake, The Dream and Will.I.Am, as well as production by Rihanna herself.

Rihanna keeps her guard throughout most of the album, but despite the shell she encloses in, her personality and emotions manage to come through and hold together what makes up for Rated R, a seemingly unrestrained public threat and statement of her reign over pop music.  

Rated R is a magnificent pitch of eccentrically rock R&B. Rihanna bounds and leaps between rock, pop and stringent R&B. The sound works for her and without doubt hems in her inner rock star. It flaunts a lot of growth in as far as it concerns artistry, composition, vocal ability and character.

‘Wait Your Turn’, the promotional single, is a stake at dub-step, and introduces the dark and strong vibe of the record. It is not Rihanna’s best as she is mostly auto-tuned in most of the track, but it is certainly something new for her and sounds like nothing she has ever done before. ‘Russian Roulette’ is jittery, angsty and filled with frustration, reflecting an unstable relationship, of always being hanging by a thread and not knowing when ‘the trigger’ might be pulled and hurt either partner. Lyrically, it is beyond belief, and musically, out of this world.

‘Hard’ is an intimidating pop-hip-hop track where Rihanna states her strength as both a singer and a young woman; it somehow sounds like revenge. ‘Te Amo’ is an odd yet amazing pursuit of feeling attracted towards another female; its elements of a Spanish guitar are insanely the cherry on top. ‘Stupid in Love’ is a piano-driven dreary ballad which showcases Rihanna’s pipes but goes nowhere as the content and lyrics of the song are amateurish and in fact poor. ‘Rude Boy’ is the highest and sunniest moment in the record, where the Rihanna everyone is used to, takes the lead, as she sings amidst a saucy-Caribbean tinged beat.

‘Photographs’ is a very unarmed and frail side to the disc where Rihanna sings about having nothing but memories of past love. ‘Cold Case Love’ is a simple piano midtempo which then turns into a belligerent accusation in varied stringed instrumentation; its content is a marvelous play in crime and love metaphors. ‘The Last Song’ is a haunting break-up song, where Rihanna seems to finally leave behind her anger and hostility, which comes as subtle as a mallet in ‘Firebomb’, basically a description of how she runs over a lover and how his face crashes in the windshield. Rihanna goes pretty much morbid in the aforementioned track as well as in ‘G4L’ (Gangster for Life), which can be just described with one word: violent.

Rihanna’s limited vocal range sounds more developed and much improved than her early recordings. This time around she is able to hold prolonged higher notes and handles stable harmonies. Good Girl Gone Bad, her highest selling record released in 2007, pushed Rihanna to become a better singer and performer, and Rated R becomes an extension of that musical augmentation. She has never sounded this confident and determined since her preceding record.

Its only let-down is its constant dark and angry feeling, and largely ruminating mood slotted in the lyrics. Just about everything in the album seems to be related to Chris Brown and the altercation both had the year previous to the album release. Incorporating this particular dark moment in her life to the majority of the album was complete suicide. Perhaps it was needed for Rihanna to let off some steam and liberate herself from the pain she had to go through, after the lengthened tabloid stirs and entertainment news documenting Brown’s physical attack over her, but the persistent ponderings become droning and repetitive, to the point it becomes too exasperating.

Good Girl Gone Bad was described as edgy when it came out, but by ‘edgy’, this record is what Rihanna probably meant.

★★★1/2

C.Perez