Rihanna may still have her umbrella (ella, ella), but all offers to stand under it are off. If 2007?s multiplatinum chart beast Good Girl Gone Bad was her gleaming pop opus, Rated R is a defiant middle finger to all that—a posttraumatic diary built on furious bravado, rampant profanity, and the bruising fallout from her February assault at the hands of then boyfriend Chris Brown.
Granted, the 21-year-old Barbadian star has spent the last five years shedding successive skins—first emerging as the blithe island princess of her 2005 debut, Music of the Sun, then remolded into the nascent urban Lolita of ?06?s A Girl Like Me and the increasingly provocative baby diva of Gone Bad. Here, the material is almost obsessively dark and mono-focused, from the not-difficult-to-parse metaphors in shuddering first single ?Russian Roulette? to the self-lacerating balladry of ?Stupid in Love.?
Throughout, Rihanna dons hip-hop swagger like borrowed armor, leaning heavily on her Caribbean accent and unleashing a string of baddest-bitch boasts via dancehall-riddim?d bangers like ?Hard,? ?G4L,? and ?Wait Your Turn.? But R is also spiked with aggressive guitars, from the Slash-guesting ?Rockstar 101? to the shamelessly ?Purple Rain?-riffing coda, ?The Last Song.? A genuine moment of vulnerability plays stunningly on the meticulously layered ?Cold Case Love,? penned by Justin Timberlake. Still, Rated R rarely delivers Top 40 fodder. Instead, it?s a raw, often unsettling portrait of an artist who is, she insists, no longer a Girl at all. B