It’s almost impossible to imagine now, but barely five years ago, Rihanna was basically the female version of Sean Kingston. These days, Kingston isn’t much more than a Justin Bieber accessory and Rihanna…well, she’s arguably the biggest female pop star around these days. She’s racked up an impressive 11 #1 hits on the pop singles chart, sidling up against the likes of Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson in the blink of an eye. She’s one of the more unique-sounding pop singers around. You can always tell Rihanna’s voice when you hear her on the radio, which is more than you can say about Katy Perry or Ke$ha. She can do dance-pop, she can do hip-hop, she can do reggae, she can do pop ballads…in terms of pure pop pleasure, Ri-Ri’s as good as it gets these days.

Talk That Talk is Rihanna’s sixth album. Sixth. To put that into some kind of perspective, Michael Jackson’s last six studio albums were released over a period of twenty two years. Rihanna’s done it in barely 7. Not comparing Rihanna with MJ creatively, of course, but I’m saying. This woman poops out albums like the Octomom poops out babies. And with the exception of her very first one, they’ve all been decent to good. Her last two, Loud and Rated R, were damn near great. And while Talk doesn’t reach those heady heights, it’s still a solid listen, brimming with frothy dance tracks and featuring a couple of songs that showcase Rihanna’s versatility.

The thing about most dance music (past and present) is what do you do when you’re not in a situation where you’re dancing? Rihanna’s been pretty good these last couple of albums about giving her music some personality and avoiding sounding faceless. Talk That Talk’s biggest issue is that it takes a couple of tracks for Rihanna’s voice and personality to come out. The album doesn’t really start until we get to the first single (and third track) “We Found Love”. I wasn’t totally sold on this song the first few times I heard it, but shit, man, this song is fucking buoyant. It’s got a hook that deserves to be (and will be) sung at the top of peoples’ lungs for the next year. Her voice at ones hardens and softens for “Cockiness (Love It)”, one of the most overtly sexual songs she’s ever done. Let’s just say that the double entendres here barely qualify as single entendres. This song screams for a remix featuring fellow West Indian sexpot Nicki Minaj. Or Ri-Ri could go all the way raw and see what Lady Saw is up to these days.

The title track is a decent enough synth-pop track that probably only made the album for the fact that Jay-Z is featured on it. Let’s just say that it’s not one of Jigga Man’s most memorable verses. “Roc Me Out” (which, despite the title, does not feature another Jigga cameo) is a slightly whitewashed version of “Rude Boy” from a couple years ago. While there’s not one out-and-out bad song on Talk That Talk, there’s definitely more of a generic quotient here than on Ri-Ri’s last two or three albums. She still has what it takes when the songs have a little bit of Island flavor, as evidenced by the hypnotic and playful “Watch ‘n Learn”, easily the album’s best track.

For my money, Rihanna is best when the tempo slows slightly and is given something resembling a melody to work with. She appears to have gotten much more comfortable with her voice on songs like “Drunk On Love” and the album closer “Farewell”, on which she’s actually belting full-voice. Songs like this leave me intrigued as to what she’d be capable of coming up with if she took a slight turn away from the super dance-y stuff.

Princess of Current Pop? Yeah, pretty much. Talk That Talk is as good as Beyonce’s 4, and while it might not have a song in German or a delightfully Eighties sax solo (or several), it beats the leather chaps off of Born This Way. I don’t know how long Rihanna is gonna keep up this breakneck pace of releasing records, but if her albums continue to be this good, I say keep ’em coming.

Grade: B

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