Rihanna‘s sixth studio album, “Talk That Talk,” is like her first five studio albums, in that after today we will never listen to it again from start to finish.
More than only about a handful of artists — Katy Perry comes to mind — Rihanna is a radio-centric pop-star. The best tracks on “Talk That Talk” will be determined by whichever become most ubiquitous in the coming months — current Billboard #1 “We Found Love” is off to a nice start.
As far as Rihanna’s cultural significance goes, her LP is just an industry-required vehicle for these songs to be released. (Case in point: “We Found Love” took the top spot before “Talk That Talk” even dropped.)
And predicting which songs will be hits is kind of dull, as is the album, a perfectly sound collection of synth-steeped dance and R&B that isn’t much fun to listen to on headphones but will be spectacular for a dance floor.
What does come across after playing “Talk That Talk” is that, surprisingly, Rihanna hasn’t backed away from the overwrought sexual theatre of “S&M” and “Love the Way You Lie.”
Instead, “Talk That Talk” takes the Rihanna-as-sex gambit to another level. “Birthday Cake” and “Cockiness (Love It)” both drip with overt desire. Their lyrics have left the realm of entendre behind.
Surprising only in its predictability, discussion surrounding the album has obsessed over Rihanna’s cravings. American culture still isn’t comfortable with female sexuality, and reactions have ranged from disapproval of Rihanna to disapproval of others disapproving of Rihanna.
When you stop to consider the sex on “Talk That Talk,” though, it’s impossible to get excited about it one way or the other. Rihanna is a bizarre and mechanical pop star who turned down the opportunity to be an emblem against domestic violence. That was her prerogative, whether it was right or wrong.
In reality, the most fascinating question surrounding “Talk That Talk” is whether the market, and listeners, will take to what some critics are calling the dirtiest pop album ever made.
As a business decision — which, you can rest assured, this was — going all-in on the lust and physicality puts Rihanna’s immense commercial viability at risk. It also establishes her as the most visible aspect of something, which is pretty much the dream of an entertainer.
What remains to be seen is whether listeners have had enough, or if Rihanna’s pursuit of pleasure will continue to be Billboard gold.
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