RihannaPress photo 2007
Credit: Roberto D'Este

Good Girl Gone Bad

Here’s a fun game: Put on Rihanna’s catchy latest single, ”Umbrella,” close your eyes, and pretend you’re listening to the dearly departed ’90s R&B girl group SWV (”Anything”). If, perchance, you have an old Pathfinder with a boomin’ system to play it on, even better. Rihanna’s tangy tremolo is unmistakably reminiscent of early hip-hop-soul divas Monica and SWV’s Coko. And while the 19-year-old Caribbean singer’s follow-up to last year’s A Girl Like Me is a meld of many genres — including ’80s pop and rock — at its finest, messiest moments, Good Girl Gone Bad is a thrilling throwback to more than a decade ago, when upstart producers haphazardly mashed R&B with hip-hop to create chunky jeep anthems such as Mary J. Blige’s ”Real Love.”

Superproducer Timbaland was barely a fledgling beatsmith then, but judging from his Good Girl standouts ”Sell Me Candy” and ”Lemme Get That,” he carries that era’s aesthetic firmly in his DNA. Both tracks are built on loping, crunchy reggae loops, the latter sounding as if it were a strangely pleasing orchestration of a drum machine, a toy piano, and a bag of recyclable trash. Accordingly, Rihanna, whose delivery is typically less adventurous than that of stylized performers like Shakira or Beyoncé, admirably stretches her slightly nasal voice to grittier extremes. ”Lemme Get That,” with its monstrous marching-band vibe and smart-alecky lyrics, showcases her newfound vocal sass. ”I got a house, but I need new furniture,” she sings, teasing the words out Nelly-style. ”Why spend mine when I can spend yers?”

As hinted at by the album’s title, Rihanna works with edgier and wittier verse than on her two previous albums. In ”Breakin’ Dishes,” Christopher ”Tricky” Stewart (Britney Spears’ ”Me Against the Music”) provides her with an appropriately frantic romp so she can wax neurotic about a stray man: ”Is he cheating? Maybe, I don’t know,” she wonders. ”I’m looking around for something else to throw.”

Good Girl only goes bad when Rihanna tries her hand at treacly ballads and glum sentiment. Surprisingly guilty are her high-profile songwriters. Justin Timberlake’s ”Rehab” is a joyless overdose of midtempo melodrama. Meanwhile, ”Question Existing,” penned by on-fire singer Ne-Yo, features a bleak monologue about fame in which Rihanna drones, ”I don’t know who to trust.” Such world-weariness doesn’t suit her. Rihanna’s at her best when she’s brash and unpredictable and summoning the spirit of years past — even if she was only in kindergarten at the time. B+

Good Girl Gone Bad
  • Music