Here’s a fun game: Put on Rihanna’s catchy latest single, ”Umbrella,” close your eyes, and pretend you’re listening to the dearly departed ’90s R&B girl group SWV (”Anything”). If, perchance, you have an old Pathfinder with a boomin’ system to play it on, even better. Rihanna’s tangy tremolo is unmistakably reminiscent of early hip-hop-soul divas Monica and SWV’s Coko.
She's not yet 20, but this is Rihanna's third album in as many years. The remarkable ballad Umbrella, atop the singles chart, is evidence that her strict work ethic is paying off: over massive drums and growling bass that sounds like engines revving up, Rihanna delivers an impassioned declaration of us-against-the-world devotion. The album, however, is something of a curate's egg.