Released almost a year to the day after Rihanna’s previous effort, Rated R, Loud purports to leave behind that album’s comparatively dark mood for a bright, sassy revival. Considering that she’s been pumping out an album a year since 2005, these claims of reinvention are suspect; how much artistic growth can anyone experience over the course of a few months? If you’re Rihanna, however, such rhetorical questions are irrelevant: You simply round up a battalion of songwriters and producers to assemble whatever vision you’ve conceived for this record.
Rihanna has always been primarily a pop vocalist in the purest sense, interpreting other people’s work in service of Top 40 hits. With Rated R, she waded further into the co-writing pool, and the album’s resulting “darkness” could be attributed to her public personal struggles. She goes the exact opposite route on Loud, eschewing any co-writing credits, acting as a conduit for club and radio jams about sex, parties, and sexy parties. For her part, Rihanna does sound invigorated, delivering charismatic vocal performances of material that doesn’t always warrant them: Her sassy growl on “S&M” just barely makes up for the lyric “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me.” her bubbly patois and soaring divatronics elevate the generic R&B and Euro-dance flavors of “What’s My Name” and “Complicated,” respectively. And her sexy swagger on “Cheers” proves a surprisingly inspired complement to a grating Avril Lavigne sample. Nothing here reaches the heights of her mega-hit “Umbrella”—though “Only Girl (In The World)” comes close—but Rihanna delivers every song like it’s a smash hit in the making.