Rihanna’s ‘Unapologetic’: The Reviews Are In
The Grammy winner’s new release features a range of songs — from club bangers and EDM beats, to love ballads and urban R&B hits. And Unapologetic is already seeing skyrocketing success on the charts: The first single off the fresh collection, “Diamonds,” has already climbed to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The pop ballad becomes Rihanna’s 12th No. 1 single, tying her with Madonna and the Supremes in fourth place for most chartoppers in Hot 100 history.
The highly anticipated album also boasts many star contributors. Rihanna teamed up with David Guetta on The-Dream-produced “Phresh Out the Runway,” collaborated with Eminem on “Numb” and even sampled Ginuwine’s “Pony.” But none of those industry big-names could match the buzz surrounding the ever-defiant “Nobody’s Business,” which sees Rihanna join forces with her ex-boyfriend — and one-time abuser — Chris Brown.
Now the question remains: Does Rihanna shine bright on Unapologetic? The reviews are mixed for the megastar’s latest work. While some critics praise Rihanna’s vocal prowess and the variety of sounds on Unapologetic, others pan its lack of inspiration.
See what the critics are saying below:
LA Times: “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. Said trouble arrives within ‘Nobody’s Business,’ a duet between pop singers Rihanna and her ex-boyfriend Chris Brown, and anyone who’s been following their tempestuous relationship — it got violent the night before the 2009 Grammy Awards — can fill in the blanks…. Instead of singing about connection, true love and wanting to shout it to the world, the song features a convicted abuser and the woman he assaulted asking everyone to shut up and leave them alone.”
Washington Post: “It’s a messy, blank-eyed, occasionally appealing train wreck on which a lot of time is spent bemoaning the attention paid to the difficulties in Rihanna’s personal life while simultaneously exploiting them…. There are some highlights: On the piano-based weepie ‘Stay,’ Rihanna displays a greater vocal range than she has ever shown; ‘Jump,’ which references Ginuwine’s ‘Pony,’ is a monster in the making.”
Esquire: “Its fifteen tracks include a number of flaccid ballads, half-baked stabs at dancefloor pop, and various other uninspiring ways to pass three-and-a-half to four minutes of time. But there’s gold in there, too.”
Huffington Post: “Kinetic and musically varied, the album blasts the sounds of global, post-mod youth culture through every track. She creates an emotional soundtrack not of some affected, stupid-rich celeb, but of a 24-year old survivor who rocks and laughs and cries.”
Chicago Tribune: “The singer one-ups the exploitation industry by dueting with her former boyfriend and abuser, Chris Brown, to declare that their tempestuous romance is ‘Nobody’s Business.’ Initial reaction: This dysfunctional couple has turned the track into a sick marketing ploy. You can even dance to it! The production casts the song in strings, piano and a four-on-the-floor kick drum, a canny merger of Chicago stepping music and golden-age house. Talk about a mixed message.”
NY Times: “Rihanna isn’t so much profane in language — though certainly sometimes that — as in presence…. That doesn’t mean she’s never hurt on Unapologetic (Def Jam), which is one of her best albums, along with her 2007 breakthrough, Good Girl Gone Bad, and her 2010 pop peak, Loud. But even on the most vulnerable songs, she maintains her cool, never once verging on the maudlin.”
Entertainment Weekly: “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’). After last year’s Eurodisco romp Talk That Talk, the only thing shocking here is how vulnerable she sounds.”
Billboard: “Amping up on urban, dubstep-leaning R&B and scaling back on the often awkward sex jams that populated the second half of 2011’s Talk That Talk, Unapologetic is Rihanna’s most confident, emotionally resonant work since 2009’s Rated R. There’s hard-hitting club songs…and a surprising abundance of heartfelt ballads…all of which showcase Rihanna’s voice in ways the listener hasn’t heard before. Like previous Rihanna projects, Unapologetic is destined to crank out at least five singles over the next 12 months (or until it’s time for the next album, anyway).”
Time: “It is a raw, dark album with only a few ready-made chart-topping singles on it. In short, it doesn’t sound much like the last six Rihanna albums, which isn’t entirely a bad thing…. She may be ready for a change in artistic direction. While this is not her best album, it feels like her most personal and with it’s urban R&B sound, it may be an indicator of the direction Rihanna is heading as an artist.”
Boston Globe: “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.”
Idolator: “Unapologetic’s one moment of pure bliss is also its biggest talking point: ‘Nobody’s Business,’ in which Chris Brown joins Rihanna in a duet seemingly inspired by Michael Jackson’s earliest hits — Breezy’s comfort zone. Rihanna laps up every syllable like a kitten to milk, even though her own chorus coincidentally recalls that of Billie Holiday’s classic, devastating song about domestic abuse…. Now, more than ever, Rihanna can sing about loss and isolation with absolute conviction, within the parameters that she’s been given — bass slap or otherwise. Unapologetic may be hard to hear, and it may be imperfect, but it’s also Rihanna at her most convincing yet.”
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