We know what you're thinking at seeing Rihanna's name on SoulBounce, but don't be alarmed. We are not turning into every other music blog on the planet nor selling out to Da Man, but her new album, Unapologetic, does deserve a closer look under the SoulBounce microscope. Because, shockingly enough, it's not as bad as one would think. Not to say that it's that great either, but let our Contributing Editors Remi and D-Money explain it all to you as these two frenemies allow us to eavesdrop in on their conversation and track-by-track album review on this latest SoundTable Discussion.
Remi: Alright, I don't like you, and you don't like
you me, but let's put that aside in the service of discussing Rihanna's latest discharge release. I think first of all, it's worth noting that this chick's been steadily promoting an album for the last seven years. For a lot of people, it's just one long album promo cycle.
D-Money: She's got stamina, I'll give her that. Seven years non-stop is a grind.
Remi: Hahaha, or a fairly reliable pusher-man.
D-Money: Well, if the reports of that disaster of a tour are to be believed, she's starting to unravel.
Remi: Problem is, I'm not even buying that. Her well-crafted wild child persona feels just as hollow as everything else about her. She's created so many personas over the years -- all of which are now on the album. It's sort of an amalgamation of every Rihanna you've seen so far. We've got Baby-Madonna Barbie! Hood-Chic Barbie! Edgy Fashion Barbie! And the original you first fell in love with, Island Barbie! Buy the album! Collect the set!
D-Money: It's a smart gamble, though.
Remi: Is it?
D-Money: A little something for everyone that may have only liked her during certain albums. Now, it's all on one. Who could resist?
Remi: I know the kids are all about the packaging, but at this point, I feel like there's nothing real about this chick. I mean, even her apparent unraveling just feels like another image change.
D-Money: I mean, I don't call her Rihanna-bot for nothing. She's the pop Stepford Wife that producers have been looking for for years. I'm sure Cassie is cleaning off her knees somewhere wondering what went wrong.
Remi: Ahh, but that's the "ting." (© Island Barbie) In recent years, a female pop star knew she'd made it when a key backlash talking point was to liken her to a robot. Britney, Beyoncé, you name it. But it's never felt like it could actually be true before Rihanna. I feel like the only emotion she's programmed to feel is ambition.
D-Money: Oh, she feels more than ambition. She's a bit too invested in this Chris Brown downward spiral. This album is almost a love letter to him.
Remi: Interesting. How so?
D-Money: I feel like most of the ballads are, in some way, referencing them. Take her attempt at a ballad with "Stay." It's all moody piano as she generically relates that "something about the way he moves" makes her want him to stay.
Remi: Ahh, I congratulate you for being tuned in enough on this album to process any of the lyrics. I tuned out after "I'mma give you all my affection / Every touch becomes infectious / Let's make out in this Lexus."
D-Money: Oh. My. God. That should go down as one the dumbest lyrics known to man. But congrats on getting your fam that songwriting credit.
Remi: Hahaha. But seriously, this album is the starkest illustration of what I've said for years -- the least crucial factor in recording a Rihanna song is Rihanna herself.
D-Money: Oh definitely.
Remi: From "Numb" to "Loveeee Song," her presence has never felt less necessary than on this album.
D-Money: The stars here are the myriad songwriters and producers.
Remi: But the funniest thing is that it's resulted in her most instantly enjoyable album yet. Her albums are usually either late growers or altogether subpar. But at first listen, much of this album appealed to me.
D-Money: OK, so glad I'm not the only who's liking most of what I hear. I was contemplating hitting the bottle.
Remi: For example, now when "Birthday Cake" comes on at a club, we all do things to make our parents regret their lifestyle choices.
D-Money: Speak for yourself, sir. I turn the channel.
Remi: Hahaha! I'm past lying to myself. I could be in a meeting when someone says the word cake, and I mutter "#cakecakecake" under my breath. It's Pavlovian at this point.
D-Money: LOL! Speaking to the new record's enjoyability, could it be that Rih Rih is finding her artistic footing... finally?
Remi: Pleeze. She's found about as much footing as Lieutenant Dan. You don't get points for learning to be invisible on your own album.
D-Money: Haha. Maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better.
Remi: Alright, wanna go through this thing track by track?
D-Money: Let's do it.
"Phresh Out The Runway"
D-Money: Hate it!
Remi: Really? I don't!
D-Money: There's a song that it reminds me of that I can't put my finger on.
Remi: I mean, we've heard this a thousand times before, and it's continuing in her costume-ghetto role from Talk That Talk. But, to quote you from our discussion of the Brandy album, it appeals to my inner hoodrat.
D-Money: It's a weak opener, but I'll give you that. I can see it getting the chickenhead crowd going.
Remi: That said, it's horrendously predictable. Once I heard the sireny track, I knew her vocals would mimic their melody and cadence. And screwed vocals? Check. Repetition? Check.
D-Money: And no one thinks Rih sounds like she's selling rocks. Like, at all. But she wants folks to think she's like Jay-Z. She's not even Coo Coo Cal as far as rep is concerned.
Remi: Ha. But that's the thing. Her image is so sufficiently Harper's Bazaar that she can play this role without fear of it affecting her career. On the other hand, in a sad commentary on the significance of race, I wish a Gwyneth would...
D-Money: So, should we even discuss this? I mean, you're obviously biased. Anyone could have a hit with "Diamonds."
Remi: Dude, I'm still really mad at myself for liking it, but this is one of the few tracks where I feel her presence. And she's even using that voice we first heard on Jay's "Run This Town."
D-Money: I think it's a great song, just not with her singing it.
Remi: But the real star is that drumbeat. It's about as much military-ballad as "Soldier of Love."
D-Money: The driving drums do sell it. That creepy, old lady "shine bright like a DIE-MUN" turns me off though.
Remi: Yeah, I thought it did... until I couldn't get it out of my system. That's why I call it earcrack.
(Or perhaps ear-herpes. Earpes?)
D-Money: So you admit to your crack addiction, Rems?
Remi: No shame in my game. Addicted to crack, and herpes.
D-Money: Ok...just got a really gross image. Next song.
D-Money: This I actually dig. My inner hoodrat did bodyrolls.
Remi: Yeah, but this one's essentially an interlude. An interlude on an Eminem album, 'cause she's like the emperor's clothes on this.
D-Money: This is easily the worst feature of Em's career.
Remi: True. Em usually saves his wackness for the lead singles of his own albums.
Remi: Shut up. Don't agree with me. We ain't friends.
D-Money: But this is how I usually like my Rihanna. Barely there with a good beat. (And yes, I'll have to take a shower after this, more than likely.)
"Pour It Up"
Remi: More "Tee hee! Could you seriously buy me as a hood chick?" Basically cultural / socio-economic tourism, at this point.
D-Money: It's "Bandz A Make Her Dance" with a chick. And all the strippers rejoice!
Remi: This song is essentially the sorority chick obnoxiously rapping, throwing gang signs and making out with girls at the bar for attention.
D-Money: Yep. She basically took all the fun of "Bandz" and killed it then raped the corpse.
Remi: And documented it in a gritty fashion editorial shot by Ellen Von Unwerth... 'cause you know, she's edgy like that.
D-Money: This song is so charmingly odd.
Remi: I really do like this one. But again, this ain't her.
D-Money: Yeah, it's Future that sells it. I'd love to see what someone like Rochelle Jordan would do with this.
Remi: Hmm. Or Chrisette Michele.
D-Money: Yeah, Chrisette would be great on this.
Remi: The production's absolutely stellar, though. Win all around.
D-Money: Most definitely. It just works. Which surprises me, because the Auto-Tune heaviness of it would usually cause me to tune out.
Remi: (Now, if only I knew who Future was.)
D-Money: The bastardization of "Pony." This opens that horrid dubstep section.
Remi: Ha! I actually don't hate this.
D-Money: Oh, I hate everything about it. But I should also say that I don't get dubstep whatsoever.
Remi: I'm not a huge dubstep fan either, but this really does it for me. Chase & Status play with mood and intensity well on this. Very Drum & Bass that way.
D-Money: It sounds like I imagine it feels to have a stroke while listening to "Pony."
Remi: Hahaha! As someone who's had a stroke listening to Pony, I can tell you you aren't far off at all.
(See above confession RE: crack.)
D-Money: I understand so much more about you now, Rems.
Remi: I'm an open book, D-Money. (And you're right, I remember listening to the lyrics on this one and wondering if she meant it for Chris.)
D-Money: Two words: Hated. It.
Remi: Can I just say that this perfectly encapsulates everything I hate about David Guetta?
D-Money: David Guetta is a pox on the music community.
Remi: Word. And I'm someone who can totally roll with the douchiest of douchey house/dance DJs: Benny Benassi, Swedish House Mafia, you name it.
D-Money: And WTF is this song even about?
Remi: Nothing, really. The lyrics read like they were written while on the chemical substances the song was meant to be experienced on. So it's probably Proust to a roomful of kids tripping on Molly and bouncing on the spot.
D-Money: Yeah, if you're not tripping with Molly, this song ain't meant for you.
Remi: I believe it's called context-dependent learning.
D-Money: (Why am I not surprised that you like douchey dance music?)
Remi: I'm far from a devotee of Douche Dance, but I can definitely get down with some of the less egregious EDM out there.
D-Money: Uh huh, you probably put on your paisley pants and rock out. I see you. Anywho...next!
Remi: No. Before we move on, let's make this clear: they're called pahnts. Now we can move on.
Remi: A generic piano ballad. But the Auto-Tuned verses just offend me because they suggest she had no intention of ever performing that shit live when she recorded it.
D-Money: LOL at thinking she performs "live."I feel like this was her attempt at '90's power pop.
Remi: But I thought one bit was rather telling from a lyrical standpoint. "Cause I spent every hour just going through the motions / I can't even get the emotions to come out / Dry as a bone, but I just wanna shout"
D-Money: So you think it's about her singing career?
Remi: Exactly. A preview of her Behind The Music. The only problem is that it comes right before the chorus, on which she goes ahead to (you guessed it) just shout.
D-Money: These are her confessions...
D-Money: OK, so as generic as "Stay" is, I actually like it. But it's so about Chris Brown.
Remi: I love a good moody midtempo/ballad. I don't mind it, and if it wasn't on the same album as "Get it Over With," I'd probably really love it.
D-Money: I must admit her voice has come a long way since "Unfaithful."
Remi: Yeah, mock as we may, she's improved.
D-Money: I wonder how many millions she paid that coach.
Remi: Not much, I'm sure. Anyone who considers cigarette smoke necessary for a vocal performance is going to Singers' Hell.
D-Money: Hey, you see what it did for Whitney Houston... Oh, wait. Too soon?
Remi: Hahaha. OH WAIT. DUDE! Singers' Hell? Nippy? Oh man. I'm backing the fuck away now.
D-Money: Oh...yikes. Let's move on.
Remi: Oh no. Don't back up now. Showing your ass like [insert Real Basketball Housewife of Love here] at a VH1 reunion special.
D-Money: This is such a missed opportunity.
Remi: More Hood-Chic Barbie, which she unveiled on Talk That Talk. I mean, every time she enunciates "bidness" into my earbuds, I yell out: "Trick, Barbados is a Commonwealth nation! Where they do that at?"
(But then Siri freaks out at the large black man yelling slang at her and auto-dials 911.)
D-Money: I wanted to slap both of those high yella mofos for shitting all over a random Michael Jackson ad-lib like that. Then they have the nerve to basically shit on a perfectly '90's house/R&B beat.
Remi: I don't know -- it's so tinny and home-Casio. The hook does nicely raise the stakes with the synths, though.
D-Money: It does.
Remi: But then Webster's Rhyming Dictionary takes over right after.
D-Money: Oh, and I didn't get to discuss Chris' MJ impersonation at the end. This dude really enjoys raping MJs corpse for credibility.
Remi: Sweet Jesus. I've never hated that little douche more than at the end of this song. But you see, the difference between this and "Birthday Cake" (#cakecakecake) is that it's hopelessly toothless.
D-Money: Definitely. That and the fact that them recording together is no longer shocking. It's just the latest development in the publicity stunt.
Remi: #Cake was more sonically ominous, sexual, and altogether more... wrong. So it had the shock value these two so desperately crave.
D-Money: It's also ironic in the fact that they've pretty much made this whole thing our business.
Remi: HAHAHAHAHAHA!! Dude, I'd high-five you if you weren't so clearly riddled with disease.
D-Money: ...like you aren't the carrier for at least four STDs. Earpes.
"Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary"
Remi: See, with all the shite on this album, this offended me the most. It was just so trite and recycled. I'm Marilyn Monroe, you're James Dean? Seriously, can we at least find new cliches to mine? If you said "I'm Shug and you're Mister" I'd at least stay around a little longer.
D-Money: Besides, Bey already used James Dean (to better effect) last summer.
Remi: Everyone has. But you're right, "Rather Die Young" remains a jam.
D-Money: I absolutely hate the first part. The second half piqued my interest, though.
Remi: Yeah, the other half? "Mother Mary, I swear I wanna change"? Catholic Sinnergirl is as much a cliché at this point. This was the Baby-Madonna resurgence I was talking about earlier.
D-Money: What can I say, I'm a sucker for a melancholy melody.
Remi: (Though "Mister Jesus" was all manners of awesome.)
D-Money: Though obviously manufactured, I slightly believed her delivery here.
Remi: I've only ever believed Rihanna once. On the couch with Oprah. Everything else really does feel manufactured. Now, Lindsay Lohan? That's a genuine train wreck. I respect her commitment to out-Loving Courtney before her 30th birthday.
D-Money: Haha. Well, I could also like it because it's a nice precursor to "Get It Over With."
"Get it Over With"
Remi: Yes. This is absolutely brilliant.
D-Money: The song that got me to listen to this album. Far and away the best thing that Rihanna has ever done.
Remi: *scans brain* Yeah, true.
D-Money: First, lyrically, "You keep thundering, thundering, I'm wondering wondering won't you fucking rain and get it over with?" I think it's kinda brilliant.
Remi: I think my main issue is with the delivery. It reads well, but she over-enunciates "fucking" -- again, robbing it of its power by trying to amplify it.
D-Money: I'll give you that.
Remi: And while we're at it, how the hell does she manage to keep Parental Advisory stickers off her albums? I don't see one here.
D-Money: No idea. Because almost every song has explicit lyrics.
Remi: Her fans are called the Navy, in no small part because she's a fucking sailor.
D-Money: Can we discuss the harmonies, though? (Which i never thought I'd be highlighting on Rih album.)
Remi: Yeah, whomever she's harmonizing with really does deserve duet credits on this track.
D-Money: Whoever arranged this deserves a fucking medal.
Remi: And that sparse, melancholy production? In a word? Brandy.
D-Money: Definitely... With a dash of Drake.
D-Money: Gold star, Rih!
Remi: She does some pretty good things with the lower register of her one octave, too.
"No Love Allowed"
D-Money: Only to piss on all those warm feelings I was feeling with this.
Remi: What? I love this song! To me, the order of those two tracks was the perfect one-two punch on the album!
Remi: Okay, did you like "Man Down?"
Remi: Figures. Loved that too, despite my better judgment. She's done so much posturing at this point that now, even the songs she sings in an island accent feel fake.
D-Money: ...because they are. Her "island" tracks are the most contrived things she ever does. And this is no exception.
Remi: Agreed, but I loved "Man Down." It inexplicably reminded me of this really old zombie movie I saw, set in Haiti. This, I liked because the production didn't rely on cliched "island" percussion. Also, I thought this had some wit to it. Especially "And ask me if I'm alright / N-gga is you blind?"
D-Money: Yeah, but it still feels half-assed to me. Like, "Oh yeah, I'm from the islands. Let's do a Caribbean track." And how does a Caribbean native have a fake island accent. Bajan please!
Remi: Hahaha! This is the problem with where she is now -- she's easier to define by what she isn't than by what she is. She's the Mitt Romney of pop music.
D-Money: Nail. On. Head. She's whatever she thinks you want her to be.
"Lost In Paradise" / "Half of Me"
Remi: "Lost In Paradise." I like the production on this.
D-Money: Don't hate, but don't love it either. Production is...interesting. A little too disjointed for me.
Remi: Yeah. I honestly think "No Love Allowed" would've been the best way to end the album.
D-Money: I think she should've ended strong with "Get It Over With."
Remi: Do you care enough about "Half of Me" to discuss it? 'Cause I sure as fuck don't.
D-Money: Nope. "Half of Me" wasn't even worth me just typing this.
Remi: Okay, so forecast... It's November 2013, and the Mayan Apocalypse was averted by the unanimous decision to offer the Kardashians as a human sacrifice. Like clockwork, Rihanna's prepping her next album, Venom (or something equally tedious). What songs from "Unapologetic" will you still be listening to?
D-Money: Definitely "Get It Over With" and "Loveeeee Song." Outside of that? Maybe "Stay."
Remi: Hmm. Well, right after we're done with this, my iPhone will probably lose everything but "Get It Over With," "Loveeeee Song," "Diamonds" (don't judge me), "No Love Allowed" and "Jump." And yeah, maybe "Stay."
D-Money: Venom though? LOL
Remi: (Loud / Unapologetic / Talk That Talk / Rated R / Good Girl Gone Bad. The girl's about as predictable as you can get.) Oh, and in case you're still wondering where you heard "Phresh Out the Runway," it was Kelis' "Aww Shit." Yet another thing she failed at, and Rihanna's gonna make a mint off.
D-Money: That's it! Rihanna's made a career of out-Kelis-ing Kelis.
D-Money: From the haircut to the style to the attitude. If I were Kelis, I'd be bitter, too.
Remi: Hah. Alright, I think that's about all the time any analysis of a Rihanna album deserves. Any final thoughts?
D-Money: Honestly, I think this might be leading to a more artistic Rihanna in the future. There are glimmers here.
Remi: We'll see.
D-Money: That's about it. I've agreed with you and listened to Rihanna way too much. I need a drink.
Remi: Agreed. Wait. Dammit! That's it! Peace out.