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Pop chanteuse lets the sunshine back in

Rating: 8 / 10

Ed Power, 19 Nov 2010

Nobody could blame Rihanna for going to a dark place after the horrific domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of Chris Brown (no we can‘t remember who he is either) in early 2009. Strictly from an artistic perspective, however, the trauma had a terribly enervating effect – Rated R, the album she released several months later, was surly and joyless, a universe removed from the lilting Caribbean pop of ‘Umbrella’

Her ensuing world tour left little room for doubt as to where Rihanna’s head was. In knee-high boots and barely-there shorts, she spent a fair wedge of each concert straddling a huge pink – and decidedly phallic – tank, showering the audience in confetti. Seeking to show us she was a strong woman in a steely frame of mind, she succeeded only in laying bare just how deeply the attack had affected her. Her performances were abrasively thrilling and yet you wondered how long that dark energy could sustain the 22-year-old before it started devouring her from inside.

Perhaps she finally realised this too.

Barely a year later, Rihanna returns with an album that represents a profound volte face from Rated R’s bleak melodrama. Resuming her acquaintance with the nimble-limbed reggae grooves of her early output, Loud is an unabashedly subtext-free r’n’b romp, stacked high with perky melodies and choruses that are way beyond addictive.

Not leaving anything to chance, she has corralled a Justice League-style team of hit-makers to preside over the makeover, among them Taio Cruz, David Guetta, Drake and Timbaland. On paper that might sound like the formula for an over-thought, committee-hatched mess. Actually Loud is a strikingly cohesive record, even as it skips from lung-bursting Taylor Swift-esque country pop (‘California King Bed’) through bump and grind dance floor fluff (‘Cheers, Drink To That’) to ‘Umbrella’-redux singalong, such as the single ‘Only Girl (In The World)’.

Put that down to the irresistible force of Rihanna’s personality. Were this anyone else, much of the material here might come off as depressingly formulaic. From the outset, though, the former Barbados Beauty Queen stamps herself – or rather her self – all over it. Rihanna doesn’t interpret songs; she bends them to her will, imbuing lines as outwardly trite as “Want you to make me feel like I’m the only girl in the world/ Like I’m the only one that you’ll ever love” with a gut-punch emotional heft. Standing tall, but no longer desperate to remind us of the fact, our girl has shrugged off the worst two years of her life and come back swinging.

Key track: ‘Only Girl (In The World)’

Rating: 8 / 10
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