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Singles: November 29, 2013

Reviews of new songs from Rihanna, Lily Allen, and more

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Rihanna, ”What Now”
RiRi spends half of this towering rock ballad (her fifth single off last November’s Unapologetic) mewling about “this big lump in my throat” — and the other half pummeling her insecurities with thunderclap beats and gale-force vocals that might be the best of her career. B+ Adam Markovitz

Lily Allen, ”Hard Out Here”
The spiky British songstress emerges from a lengthy musical hibernation (she got married and had two babies in the interim) with a booming critique of pop’s double standard. As far as commentary goes, it’s not as trenchant as, say, Lorde’s “Royals.” But Allen’s bouncy anthem — not to mention the blog-baiting video it came with — is still a lot of fun; by the time you read this, “Forget your balls/And grow a pair of tits” will probably be on a T-shirt at Urban Outfitters. Shatter the glass ceiling it won’t, but “Hard” does have potential to raise the roof. BRay Rahman

Stephen Malkmus, ”Lariat”
Just the sight of the former Pavement leader’s name can produce pangs of ’90s nostalgia. As it happens, Malkmus knows that feeling well: “We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever,” he sings on this loose-limbed, golden-hued tune that melodically revisits his own heady youth. The Grateful Dead, Mudhoney, and Lord Tennyson are all name-checked, but the song’s rambling, playful spirit is nothing but classic Malkmus. A-Ray Rahman