A reader of last week’s Talk that Talk track by track album review asked me: “but feldspar, what did you think about the album itself.” Going track by track is an easy and convenient way to organize thoughts about an album – it imposes a hard structure that often eludes the standard album review. However this was not an album review format I’d pull out for any old album.
Many reviews of Rihanna, both the album and individual songs, like to suggest improvements at the artist. Take the last sentence of Lindsay Zoladz’s Pitchfork review, “Rihanna’s obviously going for sexy here, but her music’s at its most alluring when she’s blissed out in her own reverie, not taking the time to spell it all out for us.” Pitchfork’s review and argument here is a good one, but irrespective of that: it’s really difficult to pin any of the musical decisions on an album like this to a particular artist. Well some decisions are easy: Jay-Z’s verse on “Talk That Talk” is torpid, and that’s Jay-Z’s fault. But which of the four writers on “Cockiness,” Bangladesh, Rihanna, or two mystery names without wikipedia pages, deserves the blame for whatever happens during the chorus of that song?
And, as it’s difficult as it is to point to artistic impulse behind the songs on Talk That Talk, it’s equally difficult for me to pin the album to a unitary artistic vision on the whole. So while I appreciate the sort of analysis that can articulate what it likes and doesn’t like about Rihanna, I rarely think it’s the right move to expand that criticism into statements about themes or aims that permeate the album. The truth is that if there’s alot of, for example, “sexy” on Talk That Talk, that “sexy” can’t be said to be coming from or going to the same place.
For these reasons, I don’t really care about Rihanna albums as albums. As I’ve done with her previous records, I’ll probably just listen to the songs I like off Talk That Talk (those being, if you want a quick playlist, “You da One,” “We Found Love,” “Roc Me Out,” and “Watch n’ Learn”) and assume that I’m not missing out on any great insights that span the fifteen tracks.