On Rihanna's new "Rated R" (Def Jam) album, nearly everything from her previous work is gone except her emotional voice and Barbadian accent.
After a horrible year that found her not only beaten by her ex-boyfriend Chris Brown, but victimized again by a media that ran photographs of her bruised face as evidence of the attack, it's no wonder that "Rated R" is a dark album filled with violent imagery and uneasy beats.
Rihanna may have been set to leave the cutesiness of "Umbrella" and "Don't Stop the Music" behind anyway, but the events of the year, no doubt, accelerated this plunge into darkness. Though nothing matches the despairingly low self-esteem of the first single "Russian Roulette," which ends with a harrowing gunshot, Rihanna revisits self-loathing often, including the wrenching "Stupid in Love," where she declares, "My new nickname is You Idiot, that's what my friends are calling me when they see me clinging to my phone, they're telling me, 'Let go, he is not the one.' "
Even her collaboration with Black Eyed Pea will.i.am - "Photographs," which may be the most literal discussion of her breakup with Brown - is a mostly downhearted, if pretty, attempt.
Maybe that's why the escapism of "Fire Bomb," despite the explosive imagery, and the lively "Rude Boy," with its almost playful chorus, bring such a sense of relief on "Rated R." They are signs that Rihanna may be able to move beyond these traumatic events - even if she has to get all this darkness out of her system first.RIHANNA
BOTTOM LINE Stepping back into the spotlight slowly