With four albums under her belt, Rihanna has established herself as a major act in pop music. She was able to craft a very island sound in her debut, craft full pop in her sophomore, tinge at R&B pop in her third and explore a rock-R&B-pop hybrid in her fourth. Now Rihanna attempts electronic pop, while bringing in her Caribbean swag and throwing in R&B for measure in Loud.

Judging by its first singles, ‘Only Girl (In the World)’ and ‘What’s My Name?’, Loud may holler dance, up-tempo, upbeat and energetic, but the album isn’t as ‘loud’ as it claims itself to be. This does not mean it is not a fun pop record, on the contrary, it brings about a happier approach to Rihanna in comparison to the droning mood of Rated R, but some tracks seem a bit inconsistent with the alleged album concept and sound of the rest of the body of work.

The album kicks in with ‘S&M’ which does become the epitome of the record; it is energetic, unashamed, catchy and suggestive. Rihanna taunts about being laced, while she admits to loving the smell of sex nonchalantly. It is unrestrained and infectiously fun, it may be repetitive and poor in lyrical structure, but pop music isn’t about the substance anyway; it is a naughty solid cut.  The Drake featured ‘What’s My Name?’ follows; the song is amazing, point blank. It is catchy, danceable and sexy. Rihanna goes back to her Caribbean roots not only music-wise but her tone and accent are flaunted throughout. The synths and ‘Rude Boy’-like percussion are impossible to resist to. It is saucy, heated and filled with swagger.

Avril Lavigne’s ‘I’m With You’ sampled ‘Cheers (Drink To That)’ is a letdown; Lavigne’s interpolated segment is pointless and annoying. The song is supposed to be some sort of celebration, but turns out to be a snoozefest and a sloppy glass toast instead. It is unexciting, dreary, tedious and all its derivatives. The drunken-chanted chorus before the song ends is unoriginal and forced; Katy Perry did it first in Teenage Dream with the much successfully festive ‘Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)’, which sounded appealing, and far superior. ‘Fading’ is a well delivered track both musically and vocally. The piano interspersion nods back to her Rated R cut ‘Cold Case Love’. It is a nice breakup kiss off. It can easily be related to letting go and overcoming the Chris Brown feud from the past two years, since she sarcastically waves goodbye and slaps in mocking ta-ta’s and so long’s before singing the chorus.

‘Only Girl (In the World)’ is a generic dance track, it is good, but it draws too much similarities to other tracks released in the same genre, for instance, David Guetta’s Akon assisted ‘Sexy Bitch’, it does have more tempo, it is catchier, and most importantly, it is indeed ‘loud’, but it isn’t anything one hasn’t heard before; it could be considered a distant cousin from Guetta’s aforementioned track. Despite similarities, it is not a downer, it is predominantly danceable and Rihanna is up there vocally; she is able to prolong her delivery and keeps it as thunderous possible.

‘California King Bed’ is Rihanna’s ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, where she sings about growing apart in a relationship. It follows an acoustic, more stripped down sound from the rest of the tracks in the album. Her voice sounds incredibly powerful in this one, and shows a side of Rihanna no one thought she could pull off. Her voice is unswervingly strong, and proves she has talent; she is no Whitney Houston in her early days, but she can work with what she has. The theme of the track seems out of place in the continuity of the album, in contrast to the proposed ones it finds itself amidst.

She gets her Bob Marley on in the stricly reggae ‘Man Down’, where she showcases her natural voice in a fantasy of shooting her man in Central Station. She breaks the song down in an emulation of bullets being shot; in the same vibe she introduced ‘Disturbia’. The Shontelle penned track is a sonic step-up for Rihanna and the production is iridescent for its creative underlay of police sirens. It sounds like this is her essence, meshed with anger and an unconventional innocence. ‘Raining Men’ is captivating and fierce with its eenie-meenie pre-chorus and it’s recurrent oh yeah yeah, oh oh’s. Nicki Minaj’s verses are on point, and she doesn’t go overboard like she usually does. The production is quirky, amusing and fresh. It may sound or draw comparisons to Beyoncé’s ‘Diva’ at certain parts, but this is definitely better. ‘Complicated’ is an ear-candy trance. Lyrically it follows a love reproach. It is a great take on dance pop; the beat is rushed and goes in line with the perceptible angst in the mood of the song.

‘Skin’ is a red-light lit room shocker. It sounds like the perfect abridging between Rated R and Loud, it is gritty and dark, but at the same time alluringly seductive and steamy. Her whispery vocal ability comes afloat in full, as she begins to sing a series of bed teasing connotations in a particular patterned tempo. It incorporates an incredible sex-influenced build up, in the sense the track sets a slow place at the beginning, teasing, inviting and placidly foreplaying, before it begins to gain momentum towards the bridge, as it reaches its climax and resolution, in the same way sex does.

Rihanna follows Alicia Keys’ footsteps in recording a continuation to a feature with ‘Love The Way You Lie (Part II)’, just like Keys did with Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’. It is a great sequel to the original, lyrically it is more diverse and it’s pleasant to hear less Eminem on it. Rihanna’s vocals are vulnerable, but she manages to reach a strong point during the choruses. It is an odd addition and a waste of space of what could’ve been a newer song in the album track listing though.

Rihanna has grown emotionally, and the music certainly shows it. Loud is superior to her early releases, and sets a balance between Good Girl Gone Bad and Rated R, due to its serious undertones and brisk temperament. It is a pleasant listen, and the production is top notch, but some songs could’ve been louder. Instead of staying true to the title, her team apparently seems to have opted for lush mid-tempos to state talent credibility, not realizing they would make something inconsistent. It seems as if Rihanna started with an aim, but slowed her pace down in the middle of the musical race she got into while envisioning the concept for Loud; the first songs mislead the listener when it comes to the direction the album takes after the first half.

After listening to the album, one might conclude what Rihanna meant by loud might’ve been the range of her voice, because it sounds improved and stronger in comparison to how she started; her vocals are quite impressive in Loud considering her early standards. The album is excellent but its main flaw falls in it being too short; a couple additions wouldn’t have hurt, like the David Guetta produced ‘Who’s That Chick?’ for example, which seems to fulfill the purpose of the album more than most of the songs making the final cut.

Loud is good, but too all over the place; maybe a track listing rearrangement would’ve done it more justice. She gave a taste of where she is right now, hope next time she serves the main course without dosifiying it like she did throughout. The album does have its bang factor, just not the one listeners were introduced to and misled towards.

While Rated R proved how ‘bad’ and how ‘tough’ she could be, in Loud Rihanna proves her versatility; she also proves she gets better with each album, so the future for her looks bright.

★★★1/2

C.Perez