Release Date: Nov 19, 2012
Record label: Def Jam
Genre(s): Pop, Pop/Rock, Dance-Pop, Contemporary R&B, EDM
Chris Brown only shows up once on Rihanna's seventh LP, during the defiant "Nobody's Business." But the abusive ex she took back is like a co-writer throughout, sort of the way Germany was a co-writer on World War II: "I was flying till you knocked me to the floor," she sings on "No Love Allowed." Unapologetic's stark, shadowy R&B is confrontationally honest and sung within an inch of its life, whether she's turning a strip-club anthem into a declaration of independence ("Pour It Out") or pleading at the piano ("Stay"). When she sings, "I'm prepared to die in the moment," on "Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary," a clichéd line pulses with real terror and impossible resolve. Listen to 'Unapologetic' .
Just how controversial is Rihanna’s new album? That depends on how worked up you get about rhyme schemes like this: ”Your love is infectious/Let’s make out in this Lexus. ” She might’ve stirred up headlines when she invited her ex Chris Brown to sing that line on ”Nobody’s Business,” which borrows its title (and its ’80s R&B sound) from Michael Jackson’s ”The Way You Make Me Feel. ” But the album is far less defiant than its title suggests, with just as many lovely moments by the piano (”Stay”) as there are dubstep-warped bangers (check out the massive club rave-up ”Jump,” which nods to Ginuwine’s equestrian-love classic ”Pony”).
In the age of Twitter, the gap between pop stars’ personal lives and the music they make is more blurred than ever. Never more so than on Rihanna’s seventh album. When even the provocative cover art is daubed with hashtags, you know references to the 24-year-old’s online presence are being made. RiRi, after all, has her private life delved into in ways most people will never have to endure.
In 2012, right on schedule, Rihanna delivered her fourth annual November album. The singer took a different route with the lead single. She didn't go with a dramatic ballad like "Russian Roulette" or a big dance number like "Only Girl (In the World)" and "We Found Love." Instead, the nod went to a midtempo pop ballad, "Diamonds" -- as in "We're like diamonds in the sky" (rather than stars in a mine), a simple and effective, light in meaning yet massive in sonics, quasi-processional.
Seven years and seven albums have come and gone, and Rihanna has become a slight version of what Jay-Z likened her to in 2007: Madonna. Since then, Rihanna has visually evolved calculatively. Her hair, make-up, album themes, and her style of fashion have all gone under the proverbial knife. Frankly, the visual morphosis and her ability to crank out radio hits has made the spectator seat so coveted that a plane load of journalists joined in on her 777 Tour.
It takes half a verse before Rihanna spits out her first "fuck" and less time to realise that this Barbadian means business. Her seventh album in seven years is all filthy lyrics and crashing dubstep drops: R&B-pop turned up to 11. Pour It Up's strip-club mise-en-scene and Jump's invitations to ride Rihanna's "pony" see sex wriggling everywhere, while her provocative duet with ex-boyfriend Chris Brown, who assaulted her in 2009, is a difficult listen ("every touch is infectious" indeed).
Why should we believe anything Rihanna says anymore? She seems disingenuously interested in using the incident tabloids regard (with some justification) as the most intriguing story in her life as an artistic crutch. As her private life continues to disappoint people for whom said incident is, according to the title of her new album’s best and most tactless song, “Nobody’s Business,” she conversely drops allusions to it in the most indiscreet manner. Now that the bruises have healed and crazy/stupid love is reportedly once again blooming between Ri and Chris Brown, is she blaming her audience for her abuser’s continued PR nightmare? If so, the lyrical flirtations with disaster that pop up throughout Unapologetic represent one of the most grotesque distortions of “blame the victim” syndrome in pop-music history, a form of Stockhausen syndrome that passes the buck onto the casual bystander.
You don't even have to listen to Rihanna's seventh album to set alarm bells ringing. You merely have to look at its track listing. There, sandwiched between a collaboration with singer Mikky Ekko called Stay and the intriguingly titled Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary comes track 10: Nobody's Business (feat. Chris Brown).
Toward the end of her turgid seventh album, Unapologetic, Rihanna sings a grim rhetorical: "What's love without tragedy?" But the real question that she and her songwriters seem to be posing on Unapologetic is, "Who is Rihanna without Chris Brown?" The album is designed to engage our perception of Rihanna the Pop Star and Rihanna the Victim, and the source of its fascination is the dissonance between the two. Its narrative, about a woman's miserable obsession with a man we know to be her abuser, flouts expectation of the traditional survivor's tale; we want to see a woman learn from that pain and leave it, not rut in it. It was already difficult to separate Rihanna the pop icon, whom we think we know from her glamorous image and her songs, from the "real" Rihanna, whom we think know from the bruised "Robyn F.
If the annual Rihanna album is a pop radio bellwether, it would seem the overblown EDM club sound she's helped popularize is on its way out. Sonically, the first half of Unapologetic picks up on the syrupy Southern hip-hop minimalism popular last summer, while much of the latter half is a grab bag of unwieldy balladry best summed up by the title of track 12: Get It Over With. As her Drake duet Take Care demonstrated, Rihanna sounds more expressive singing in a dusky timbre, but on her own albums her vocals are always mixed so loud that her bland, nasal blaring comes off as oppressively strident.
What exactly does Rihanna have to apologise for? In many respects, she is one of the least offensive popstars on the planet. Granted, she smokes the occasional joint, performs on The X Factor in trainers with ‘fuck off’ embossed on them and poses for nude photoshoots on an almost monthly basis but this is all par for the modern popstar course. It has been since Madonna reinvented the archetype way back in the Eighties.
Rihanna has myriad reasons to feel lucky. But hang around the slots for too long and you’re more likely to come out with empty pockets – even if you happen to be a multiple Guinness Book record holder by the age of 24. Her illogical, albeit ambitious, 777 mini-tour (a press junket inside a jumbo jet that hit seven cities in seven days in anticipation of her seventh album) devolved into mutiny.
The 13th word of the first verse of the first song on “Unapologetic,” the seventh album by Rihanna, is a curse, and she relishes it, hitting the syllables hard, spitting them out sharply as if she hoped they might wound someone. The song, “Phresh Out the Runway,” is a chaotically dense spray of boasts over a muscular, scraping beat. Rihanna sounds indignant and impressed with herself, proclaiming, “Walk up in this bitch like I own the ho.” Rihanna isn’t so much profane in language — though certainly sometimes that — as in presence.
The sound of a human dragged headfirst into a breakdown, and somehow surviving it. Natalie Shaw 2012 Unapologetic is Rihanna’s seventh album in as many years, and makes for a demanding listen. The "drunk workhorse" character of the Barbadian singer, who frequented previous albums in some capacity, is absent here. Instead of anything cheeky or fun, this set is laced with the very real presence of someone using the spectacle of pop music to inadvertently condone abuse.