“A collection of profound and epic album reviews and musical articles by former astronaut and brain surgeon, Alasdair Kennedy. Reaching levels of poetry that rival Keats and Blake, the following reviews affirm Alasdair to be a prodigy, a genius and a god whose opinion is always objectively right. He is also without a doubt the most modest man in the universe.” - Alasdair Kennedy
Everyone’s favourite Bajan fashion icon and chart-topper
Rihanna has decided to go ‘alternative’. It seems no pop star wants to release
a yucky pop album any more. Lady Gaga showed she’d had enough when she dropped
the vaguely arty Artpop. Beyoncé
followed swiftly after with her self-titled progressive r&b record – many
songs getting lyrically personal and extending the five minute mark. And who
could forget Miley’s more recent exploration into psychadelia featuring The
Flaming Lips and a song about a dead blowfish?
It seems being alternative has – rather contradictorily –
become popular. The problem is that too many pop stars also think it’s easy.
They mistake success and artistic merit as similarly achievable things. They’re
not. Just because you can drop a number-one hit doesn’t mean you’re also
capable of achieving a 10 on Pitchfork. No-one can achieve a 10 on Pitchfork. It’s
like trying to eat a doughnut without getting sugar on your lips – physically
It’s perhaps this naivety that has led many
alternative-sounding albums from pop stars to sound obnoxious, uninspired or a
bit of both. I expected much the same from this new Rihanna album. The single, ‘Work’,
certainly lived up to my expectations of obnoxiousness.
– what kind of cheap hook is that? It’s just repeating a single word over and
over again until it sticks. At least, the left-field synthy beat is fairly
It turns out there are a lot of nice quirky instrumentals on
this album. From the jazzy electric keys of ‘James Joint’ to the Travis-Scott-produced
stomping dissonant chords of ‘Woo’, the record definitely feels legitimately
Travis Scott looking happy to be working with Rihanna
And thankfully there aren’t actually many annoying hooks
like ‘Work’ on the remainder of the record, if any hooks at all.
Rihanna’s voice is certainly prominent on these songs, but
she dedicates more time to showing off the range of her voice than composing
catchy choruses. Whether she’s sticking to her roots employing a Caribbean
dancehall tone or experimenting with a traditional Motown croon as on ‘Love on
The Brain’, she’s pushing her voice – which is more than I can say for most mainstream
This diversity makes up for the lack of earworms and dance
numbers. Most of the songs are at a mid-tempo pace, but Rihanna’s attempts to
tackle different styles makes each track unique from the last. Even when the
tracks start to settle instrumentally for banal balladry towards the back-end
of the record, Rihanna makes up for this by romping up the power in her vocals.
‘Higher’ is a short string-led number made interesting by Rihanna’s heartfelt
belting, whilst soft piano number ‘Close to You’ contains some of the singer’s
most intimate crooning yet.
Me being blown away by Rihanna's singing on 'Higher'
And the lyrics aren’t embarrassing either. There’s no ‘Mary
Jane Holland’ like Gaga. There’s no ‘Can I lick your skittles?’ like Bey. There’s
no ‘Why they put the dick in the pussy?’ like Miley. Written mostly by Rihanna
herself with the exception of a Tame Impala cover midway through, there surprisingly
isn’t a single cringeworthy line. Okay, ‘Work’ is pretty crap, but otherwise Rihanna
knows how to be witty. Indeed she isn’t afraid to be rude often using colourful
language, but even these moments are funny rather than tasteless: ‘Let me cover your shit in glitter’.
So there we have it, I liked a Rihanna album. Shoot me. Perhaps
the singer will continue down this left-field path in the future. Given Anti is already destined for the top of
the charts, her choice to not go mainstream has clearly still paid off.