Rihanna‘s latest LP Unapologetic arrives in a maelstrom of controversy — over everything from her personal life and reported reconciliation with Chris Brown to the recent furor over her 777 Tour. When that happens, it’s tough for any critic to evaluate an album based solely on its sonic merits — and indeed, a sampling of the reviews of Unapologetic find the discussion placed squarely in the context of Rihanna’s romances. Team Breezy will probably find much to disagree with here.
Then again, maybe that line of discussion was exactly what Rihanna and her team hoped to ignite. If so, she’s done a fine job of getting the conversation started. Read the reviews after the jump.
:: The AV Club said the album was “unfortunately coated in the icky residue of unearned defiance that has marked [Chris] Brown’s recent output,” even as they highlighted “Jump” as a standout: “Somehow managing to sound sexy in spite of itself, ‘Jump’ is a perfect example of the sort of seemingly bad decision-making skills that have defined—and elevated—Rihanna’s career, embracing trashy decadence without shame and coming off better for it. If only Rihanna had left it at that and not extended the album’s defiant tone to her romantic life.”
:: The Guardian felt that Rihanna’s unwillingness to apologize, particularly for her reconciliation with Brown, was the album’s Achilles’ heel: “So there’s stuff here that’s worth hearing, if you could untangle the music from the artist’s personal life. But you can’t, and furthermore, you get the feeling that the artist doesn’t want you to. Perhaps it’s quite a cold and canny move masquerading as an outpouring of unpalatable emotion, playing on the public’s prurient interest in her love life. Perhaps that’s too cynical. Either way, for all its musical value, listening to Unapologetic is a pretty depressing experience.”
:: The Boston Globe was surprised by how dark the album came across: “Unapologetic, her seventh studio album in as many years, is a defiant middle finger to her critics, particularly the ones who don’t approve of her relationship with Brown. Given how exuberant her catalog has been, it’s surprisingly moody at times. Even the club bangers (‘Phresh Out the Runway’ and ‘Numb,’ featuring Eminem) are heavy with bass that rumbles more in your chest instead of rattling your feet.”
:: The Los Angeles Times complained that Unapologetic was cynical and unsettling: “Were all this effort in service of a new fast-food burger launch – Unapologetic is the aural equivalent — the pitch might read, ‘More defiant, now featuring dubstep!’ Which is to say, while the new Rihanna record may be at times sonically exciting, what resides beneath the new bass-heavy, Skrillex-inspired music is still a fast-food burger, one with a lot of extra sauce and some very disturbing ingredients.
:: Vibe discussed the album as a demonstration of Rihanna airing out her dirty laundry: “Here, the 24-year-old misfit—often classified as the reckless victim who embraces destruction—finds solace in the confusion and uses the album as a medium to present her forgiving side. After an eye-opening Oprah Winfrey interview and public reunion with her ex-boyfriend and abuser, Chris Brown, the past has peaked out from under the rug. And Rih has no problem laying her cards out.”
:: The Telegraph felt that the album yielded variable results: “Hardly surprising it’s a mixed bag. For the first half, melodious vocals sweeten pushy dance club tracks full of abrasively ear catching sound effects and often weirdly off centre beats. The second half switches to ballads, disco, reggae and naff rock for a gob-smacking defence of her confused love for R’n’B star Chris Brown, who notoriously beat her up in 2009. Breezily defiant disco duet Nobody’s Business suggest these two ridiculous narcissists deserve each other but tortured ballad suite Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary introduces shades of self-doubt into pop’s least edifying yet most compelling soap opera.”
:: The Washington Post suggested that Rihanna’s creative team was actively trolling her fans: “Throw in a reference to calling 911, and it becomes clear that the makers of Unapologetic are trolling listeners, as if to distract from how listless Rihanna sounds, how shopworn the beats feel. The first half of the disc is weighted with club tracks, the second with milder R&B songs and some genuinely lovely ballads, but Rihanna’s always-on recording method is bearing diminishing returns. The dance tracks aren’t as booming as on past releases and the hooks are less hooky.”