Talk That Talk
- Def Jam/Universal
When she is bad, she's very, very bad, and that often turns out to be pretty good. And when she is good, she sometimes swamps you with radio-ready goodness, and it's all so overblown that you just want to rush that throbbing neon heart and flip the switch to off.
This album is like a tunnel, with light at both ends and a dirty dark place in the middle. It opens and closes with the disc's happiest glosses (in every sense) on true love. You Da One makes the joyous destination feel like a fresh start, with a heavy slow swagger, a sunlit Caribbean feeling, and lots of glottal attack in the vocals (as in, "all the ti-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ime."). Fool in Love rings down the curtain with a towering anthem that somehow squeezes fresh feeling from a tired lyrical concept, with the diva's biggest ornamented singing and a sense of fatality in the slow descending bass.
In between, RiRi slips into a freaky night world and gets nasty with a capital N. On Cockiness (Love It), a chorus of Rihannas chant "Suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion," before Rihanna singular opens her call-and-response solo with the line, "I want you to be my sex slave." Producer Bangladesh (Shondrae Crawford) manipulates a few samples and some minimal beats into a track of surprising textural variation, with regular shifts in gear marked by a high sampled male cry that's somewhere between a factory whistle and a muezzin's call.
Birthday Cake, another song about licking things (icing, ostensibly), continues the grand dominatrix mood of Cockiness, and the talk-randy tradition Rihanna inherited from dancehall types like Lady Saw. Red Lipstick brings drugs and celebrity into the picture, and a sense of sullen confusion about where the private ends and the public begins. The exotic, done-over production style extends the feeling of displacement.
In Roc Me Out, the star demands discipline: "I've been a bad girl, daddy, I want you come and get me." The synths growl heavily as she promises to show her dirty secret, which is that she just wants to be loved.
In the title track, Rihanna begs to be told what it takes to hold on to you – meaning you, the one special guy. But Jay-Z, in his brief rap cameo, has his Brag-O-Matic set on stun, as he blusters about how all the women want to do him – meaning all the women, not just you, girl. Did he get the wrong brief? Maybe not: "Love it when you talk that talk to me," she insists.
Away from these tributes to sexual power and emotional rough trade, Rihanna gets back to the happy-love business, in a clutch of undistinguished big-tent songs. Chief among these is We Found Love, a weak dance number given prosthetic legs by Calvin Harris's triumph-of-the-will production. The chorus is as boring as a tune can be, yet somehow this thing became a No. 1 single.
If you're rifling this album on iTunes, you can skip We All Want Love and Farewell: You've heard them before, more or less. Drunk on Love feels a bit surreal, just because of its position in the album: After a few episodes in Rihanna's turn as She-who-must-be-obeyed, it's weird to hear her declare, full-voice, that she's a hopeless romantic.
But an album isn't a narrative. It's not even necessarily personal. These personae, invented with a posse of co-writers and producers, are all spirits, melted into air. But the baddest ones are the slowest to fade, and that's good.
OTHER NEW RELEASES
Here and Now
- Two stars
Nickelback is Wal-Mart: One stop-shopping, no need to go anywhere else for those unsophisticated needs. Aisle one is stocked with roaring, armour-plated chug-rock ( This Means War). Over at aisle two – over by the cheese – there's a display of boy-band emotion ( Lullaby). Attention shoppers: For the next 37 minutes and 42 seconds, anthemic choruses are a dime a dozen. Don't Ever Let It End draws in the slow-dancing CMT crowd. You must be 21 years or older to buy the yahooing 100-proof of Bottoms Up. And, yes, clean-up on aisle four, When We Stand Together being an accident of Celtic rock and social consciousness. Put it all in the back seat of the '78 Camaro, and drive off with the babe of Gotta Get Me Some, who, naturally, "smokes a little homegrown, drinks a little Cuervo." Seven albums in, the party continues for the Alberta-bred born to be wild. Brad Wheeler
- Tegan and Sara
- Vapor/Warner Bros.
- Three stars
Small-scale and intimate, this live album is less like a concert recording than having the group play your living room, if your living room had room for a grand piano, a drum kit and 100-or so fans. The arrangements are lean and sister-centric, with the backing so unobtrusive you wouldn't know they had a band if there weren't names in the credits, and the performances emphasize the duo's vocal interplay and emotionally charged lyrics. On video (there's a bonus DVD with the CD; the download is music-only), we also get amusing between-songs patter plus a rooftop rendition of Hell with Sara apparently freezing over. J.D. Considine
- Childish Gambino
- Glassnote Records
- Three stars
Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) has a regular berth on the TV comedy series Community, which bears directly on this album, co-produced with Community composer Ludwig Goransson. Glover muses at length on his own experience in and out of social and racial communities. "I used to get called Oreo … the only black kid at a Sufjan concert," he raps in Fire Fly. He's nerdy and cool, a braggart and insecure, playing at being aggressive while wondering "why does every black actor have to rap some? I don't know, but I'm the best one." The overall push, as declared in the opener Outside, is to break out, whether from a bad 'hood or a life script guided by other people's assumptions. His flow runs speediest in L.E.S., which almost feels like freestyle, and nerdiest in That Power, in which he offers "400 blows to these true-foe niggas." Goransson dials a variety of instrumental environments, some light and splashy, some deep and minimal. Robert Everett-Green
Gabriel Fauré: Requiem and other works
- Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor
- Matthias Goerne, baritone
- Choeur de l’Orchestre de Paris; Orchestre de Paris
- Virgin Classics
- 2 ½ stars
The raison d'être for this live (and somewhat muddy) recording of Fauré's Requiem seems to be the oddball pairing of Philippe Jaroussky's ethereal countertenor with Matthias Goerne's voluptuous baritone, voices that epitomize, in their differences, Heaven and Earth. The solo in the Pie Jesu movement was first sung by a boy soprano, so Jaroussky's voice is no less appropriate than Elly Ameling's, though it certainly takes one aback. Given Fauré's agnosticism, we don't know what we enjoy most – its beauty, or its artifice. The Requiem is a perennial favourite, but it's short, so the disc has some padding: The popular Pavane, another work for chorus and orchestra, is a workable companion piece. The Cantique de Jean Racine and Super flumina Babylonis are youthful works written for competitions, however, and do Fauré's reputation no favours. Elissa Poole