Technically speaking, you're about to read the Popdust reviews for all 10.5 tracks on Rihanna's Talk That Talk because there's just no way the 1:18 snippet of "Birthday Cake" is the whole thing. (If it is--well done, Terius, and damn the tease.) It's a quick listen--her manager must be so proud--and for the most part, it's a pretty good one! Well done, Team Rihanna. There will probably be at least one other No. 1 off Talk This Talk even without the Billboard karma and fairy dust you've amassed since Loud. So that's the commercial success down--what about critical response? We're just one outlet and two reviewers, but we've nevertheless heard all 11 tracks and, here, ranked them. Read on, and decide what you'll do once the album drops Nov. 18.
No. 11: "Talk That Talk" ft. Jay-Z
Sounds Like: "Rude Boy" with Jay-Z and less vocal range. As in, you can sing "Rude Boy" over this song, which makes sense because it's practically the same song.
Pros: The bridge is great--more subdued than it has to be, with spooky high-and-low synth plinking in the background, stark harmonies and a percussion breakdown that does more or less what it's intended. It's also the only part that doesn't sound exactly like "Rude Boy."
Cons: This is seriously one of Jay-Z's lines: "I'm flying out to Pisa just to get some pizza." Yeah, it's a boast, Jay gets around, but a) seriously, Pisa/pizza is a rhyme, and b) Brooklyn probably has better pizza anyway. Jay-Z also says "I gotta pee" and giggles about it. But enough about the words. We already had a "Rude Boy" redo this year: Kelly Rowland's "Lay It On Me" with Big Sean. Rihanna and Jay-Z are upgrades from both performers, but their track is a downgrade, with cheaper production and a less enthused melody--Rihanna claims to "love it when you talk that talk to me," but she delivers it like she's reading from a self-help sex book.
Hard-R Lyric: Taken literally, it's either Jay-Z's "I be trying to chill, bitches wanna fuck me" or "I sell out arenas, I call that getting dome." In the spirit of the category, it'd be "I love it when you talk that talk to me." Leave it to the "dirtiest album since Erotica (it isn't, at least not yet) to turn its title into "talk dirty."
Single-Worthy? Single, yes: it sounds like "Rude Boy" and has Jay-Z on it. Worthy? No.
No. 10: "We All Want Love"
Sounds Like: The record's first true ballad, with more of a lighter-waving rock slant than the dance and hip-hop-influenced jams that make up the first six tracks. A bluesy electric guitar lick and some accompanying acoustic strumming give the song most of its body (along with that ever-present ghost-synth ping sound heard everywhere in pop these days), while Rihanna sings broken-heartedly about how she "can pretend that I'm not lonely / But I'll be constantly fooling myself."
Pros: It's a change of pace, certainly, and it might make for a nice arm-in-arm singalong at the end of Rihanna's concerts on the inevitable Talk That Talk world tour. (Personally, we hope she's still going with "Cheers (Drink to That).")
Cons: The deliberate pace of "We All Want Love" is kind of a drag, without ever really building to anything, and the chorus sentiment of "We all want someone to there to hold / We all wanna be somebody's one and only," while universal and relatable and all that, is really pretty boring and unremarkable. There's just not that much to this song, which is an unusual and somewhat unfortunate complaint on an album like this.
Hard "R" Lyric: Ri's being a little too busy crying and waxing philosophical on this one to get to her usual standard of filthiness—one line even ends with the word "buck," and there's not the slightest attempt to rhyme it. Disappointing.
Single-Worthy?: With Rihanna releasing five or six singles an album these days, anything's possible—the song's not inaccessible, at the very least. We kinda hope this one stays buried, though.
No. 9: "Watch 'N' Learn"
Sounds Like: The most lighthearted track off Talk That Talk that hasn't yet been released as a single. "Watch 'N' Learn" could almost be called sunny, with slight percussion taps, clicks in the background and sass in Rihanna's vocals. Producer Hit-Boy brings some of the same bass he set beneath the Throne to this track as well, but it's nowhere near as heavy.
Pros: It's nice to hear some levity from Talk That Talk and looseness to Ri's voice, even more so considering its counterpart on Loud, "What's My Name," was saddled with an unnecessary Drake verse. If for some reason you're listening to Talk That Talk all the way through instead of as disparate singles (yes, Navy, we know you've done that ten times by now, but let's not kid ourselves about how most others are going to hear the album), it's a welcome respite from the bog of heavier ballads.
Cons: Notice how often we've said "light" or synonyms for that? You can call "Watch 'N' Learn" lighthearted, but you could equally plausibly call it lightweight. The bridge is far too saccharine, too, without much reason; it sounds tacked on from a discarded track.
Hard-R Lyric: For content, "I’mma do it do it do it, on the bed on the floor on the couch"; for implications, "Don't ask me if you were the first to sleep here, 'cause if he did, you wouldn't even be here." (Harsh, but warranted--that's kind of a douchey comment on his part, no?)
Single-Worthy? No. Not only is "Watch 'N' Learn" buried on the album just before "Farewell," but it's too middling. It's neither the dirtiest nor danciest off the album, neither a banger nor a ballad. This isn't filler, per se, but you'd hardly call it a standout. But if Rihanna ever decides to root about for single #8....
No. 8: "Roc Me Out"
Sounds Like: A little less bombastic "Hard," with the same kind of chugging tempo and a lot of big-sounding synths and the like, with Rihanna singing with a command and directness befitting of her militaristic alternate persona. It's not her own hardness she's singing about this time, though, as she commands a lover to "give it to me like I want it" and hints at her "dirty secrets"—though, at the end, she lets us in on the dirtiest secret of all: "I just wanna be loved." Awwww, RiRi!
Pros: Rihanna in control is always a many-splendored thing, and you have to appreciate that tonight, she's not exactly letting her man be the captain. Plus, it's sort of an identity-capturing song for Talk That Talk–when people talk about the album way down the line, this is definitely one of the song's they'll be thinking about.
Cons: "Hard" definitely went harder, perhaps not coincidentally, and a couple of Rihanna's sex-kitten come-ons come off a little cheesy ("I’ve been a bad girl, daddy / Won't you come get me?"—really?) Also, petty grievance, do we really need the "k" dropped from "Rock" it the title? Dunno if you heard, Rihanna, but Jiggaman's doing just fine business-wise on his own.
Hard "R" Lyric: "Come over boy, I'm so ready / You’re taking too long to get my head on the ground / And my feet in the clouds." How long exactly is too long, we wonder? So impatient sometimes, that Rihanna.
Single-Worthy?: Very possibly, though it'll be one of those diminishing-return singles where you're like "OK, so this album's obviously tapped, when's the next one coming out?"
For songs 7 through 4 off Talk That Talk, click NEXT.
No. 7: "Farewell"
Sounds Like: A closer.
Pros: As a big ballad, it's a lot better-written and more interesting than "We All Want Love," the album's other potential big live encore. It's produced by Alex da Kid and Ester Dean, but it's got that kind of Ryan Tedder mid-tempo shuffle to it, with the big booming drums and the piano and the heavy diva vocals. The sound fits Rihanna surprisingly well, as she sings about saying goodbye to a man who's leaving on a jet plane and don't know when he'll be back again. "Farewell / somebody's gonna miss you" goes the chorus, and it's pretty hard to argue with that at the end of Talk the Talk.
Cons: Though it fits Rihanna, it may have been a better (or at least more obvious) fit for someone like Beyoncé instead, with a more powerful voice that could really be cranked up to 11. And we're still undecided about the "That somebody's me" at the end of each of the choruses is, explaining who the "somebody" is that's "gonna miss you." We're pretty sure we could've used context clues on that one, Rihanna.
Hard "R" Lyric: Rihanna keeps it tasteful for her big closing number. There is a reference to her being a "big girl" now late in the song, though, and again, in a post-"S&M" world, that can't help sounding the tiniest bit dirty.
Single-Worthy?: Not really. Should make for a nice fan favorite, though, and you gotta have a couple of those per album anyway.
6. "Birthday Cake"
Sounds Like: Well, first it must be noted that it sounds like less than one minute and a half. The fade-out isn't exactly graceful; it happens mid-verse, mid-lyric. We're going to call this an incomplete leak and call the suspense our due punishment for hearing this "version." What we do have, however, is pretty enticing: Hoover synths on the intro, synth handclaps that work for once, sinuous and/or Eastern-ish instrumental touches and lots of chanting. There's also a hard-to-ignore, hard-R extended metaphor--which makes sense, considering this is Talk That Talk's one The-Dream track.
Pros: "Birthday Cake" is certainly one of the more hypnotic tracks on Talk That Talk, and Rihanna's delivery is more playful than blaring, a good sound for her. The harmonies on the second verse also sound promising, at least from the handful of seconds we've heard. We're pretty sure the full track might bump this up a half-star; that's a good sign.
Cons: You will absolutely need headphones when you listen to this, unless you have an extremely high threshold for embarrassment and/or an inability to blush. The lyrics are... unsubtle. How unsubtle?
Hard-R Lyric: Well. There are two ways to interpret this. The obvious one, because cursing makes everything obvious, is "I wanna fuck you right now" or possibly "I'm gonna make you my bitch." The one that sinks in five minutes later is "come and put your name on it." Just... trust us on that, OK?
Single-Worthy? We'd say we'd need more than 1:18 to make that call, but uh, there's no way in hell this is going out to radio. Case study: Katy Perry's "Peacock," which has the exact entendre you'd expect but compared to this is a Disney ballad. She released "The One That Got Away" over it, which says it all.
5. "You Da One"
Sounds Like: A song that should have been released four or five months ago, the perfect soundtrack to summer-camp romances between 12 and 13-year-olds. "You Da One" is a bubbly little pop song, an obvious retreat from Rihanna's harder-hitting stuff of late. "You da one that I dream about all day / You da one that I think about always," sings Rihanna on the chorus, before concluding with the even gooier sentinment "My love is your love, your love is mine." There's still a dubstep breakdown section, of course—this is a Dr. Luke production, after all—but that doesn't really mean that much anymore.
Pros: Everyone loves summer love, yeah? Rihanna coveys an entire young relationship's worth of unassuming, naive sweetness in each one of her "ay-ay-ay" lyrics on the chorus, and it's hard not be transported a little to that time and feeling when you hear her. Plus, we love the filtered-chorus intro—one of the neater tricks that Rihanna (slash Dr. Luke) has picked up from UK house of late.
Cons: It's a sort of slight song for Rihanna in these days of her pushing towards provocateur status, but perhaps that's something of the point. It certainly makes for a red herring as an album opener, but once again, perhaps an intentional move on Ri's part. It's a grower, in any event.
Hard "R" Lyric: The most overtly freaky is definitely "You shouldn't have give it to me good like that / Shouldn't have hit it like that / Had me yellin' like that," but we're gonna go with the chorus lyric of "You da one / So I'll make sure I behave." After "S&M," the word "behave" is sort of a nasty trump card for Rihanna.
Single-Worthy?: No doubt, but again, it would've sounded a lot better before the leaves had even gotten the idea to start falling from the trees and whatnot. Maybe it'll be huge in Australia or something.
4. "Where Have You Been"
Sounds Like: The Dr. Luke / Calvin Harris team-up that it is: a rave template courtesy of Calvin Harris, with synth-and-lasers freakery provided by Luke, who's clearly been paying attention to the Peas. In Rihanna terms, this means it sounds like "Only Girl (in the World)" in a different key.
Pros: Said rave template got to be one because it's proven: it lets the track build, slowly, flings its emotions out in one big strobe-lit chorus, then dances them until they subside. It's a bunch of emotional manipulation, but it's manipulation that works. Rihanna does three major things, all of which work equally well: dropping in the flat monotone "yeah"s that she must've patented by now, letting her voice be chopped up, looped, clipped or otherwise turned into a sample, and letting some quaver slip in the beginning and end that almost sounds vulnerable. These pros will be even more promising in the club, the track's natural home.
Cons: A template that works is still a template, and even if you've heard only one trance song in your life, you can practically hear the stage directions beneath every section: "be quiet on the intro," "soar your vocals over the chorus, leaving no percussion beneath," "ratchet up the drums," "insert drop here," "pull back to build back up," "close a cappella." That budget handclap preset could also stand to go.
Single-Worthy? Yes; "We Found Love" is this but perkier, and it didn't exactly flop. Clubs will always need club music, so we're gonna go ahead and call this as single three or four.
Hard-R Lyric: "You can have me all you want, anywhere, any day." OK, maybe a hard PG-13. It's the second track; you've got to pace yourself.
For the top three songs off Talk That Talk, click NEXT.
3. "Drunk on Love"
Sounds Like: The Talk That Talk track that samples the xx's "Intro." (Tangent: Anyone wanna take on the task of wading through the YouTube comments to see whether there are more angry xx fans or angry Rihanna fans? This track makes everyone so mad! It shouldn't!) Anyway, one of the lyrics is "I wear my heart on my sleeve," and so does this; the xx's brief intro is turned here into a huge power ballad. The percussion is huge, the atmospherics are heavy, and everything's more-than-slightly emo.
Pros: "Drunk On Love" is basically one big slab of melodrama, but damn it, it works. Sure, the xx sample does most of the heavy drifting here, but it's well-used--notice how the vocals of the original become backing vocals for Rihanna with almost no adulteration.
Cons: This track doesn't start quiet and build to its bombast; it starts out medium and ends up past bombast. Not much on Talk That Talk is subtle, but you could call this overblown even by the album's standards. Also: Rihanna doesn't sound drunk. Neither of these detract much.
Hard-R Lyric: "I love the way you taste on my lips when we kiss." That's a PG-13 lyric at best, but you can either have lovelorn drama or filth, not both. That is to say, you can have both (c.f. JoJo's "Marvin's Room"), but that requires the sort of finesse "Drunk on Love" has already blasted to pieces.
Single-Worthy? This is probably going to be relegated to "interesting album track"--as much of an album track as Rihanna's ever made, that is. Rihanna isn't remembered for the likes of "Unfaithful" or "Take a Bow." It's still good.
2. "We Found Love"
Sounds Like: The most popular song in America, apparently. Like Loud's lead single "Only Girl (In the World)," Rihanna went the Euro dance-pop route for Talk That Talk's first transmission, even going so far as to enlist the help of UK super-producer/songwriter Calvin Harris (and giving him the featured-artist credit he so richly deserves). Harris takes her deeper into the clubs than she's ever been—even compared to "Only Girl" and 2007's "Don't Stop the Music," neither of which were songs that would be often described as "restrained," "We Found Love" is complete release, totally giving of mind, body and spirit over to the spirit of dance music. The video helps.
Pros: The main hook is divine, and the escalating synth-alarm build-up that ends up exploding into that unforgettable riff is the best reason to throw your hands in the air as if you did not fear the consequences that we've heard so far this year. Meanwhile, Rihanna meets Calvin's instrumental exuberance without hesitation, and some of the song's finest moments come even before the pre-chorus build up, with Rihanna ecstatically rhapsodizing "It's the way I'm feeling, I just can't deny." Again—the video helps.
Cons: The one thing holding the song back from being one of Rihanna's finest moments—a single to match "Umbrella," "S.O.S." and "Disturbia" and to absolutely kick the crap out of "Rude Boy" and "Only Girl"—is the chorus. "We found love in a hopeless place" is just kind of a weird statement, one that cries out for further elaboration, but Rihanna's not giving—the lyric is the chorus entire, and nothing in the verses shines any further light on it. It's still celebratory-sounding enough that you can sort of get the idea if you divest yourself from the actual words, but it makes for kind of a hollow singalong.
Hard "R" Lyric: Actually, despite the craziness of the video, the lyrics here are innocent enough for even the 13 and unders. "Turn away cause I need you more / Feel the heartbeat in my mind," feels uncomfortably intense, possibly.
Single-Worthy?: Nah, it'll never sell.
1. "Cockiness (Love It)"
Sounds Like: A Bangladesh production a la "6 Foot 7 Foot" and "A Milli," with an endlessly repeating vocal sample in the background. This one takes an even more minimal approach than ol' Banger usually does, though—it's almost Diplo-esque in its austerity and incredibly subtle hook construction. Most notably, the song pauses from its beat (constructed out of a booming low-end and an unintelligible rhythmic vocal sample) a couple times, for Rihanna to belt out "No one can do you the way that I do / Boy I wa-a-a-ant...," at which point the voice from the repeating sample re-enters to scream "YOUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!" It's striking, to say the least.
Pros: Your opinion of the song will likely be perfectly encapsulated by your feelings on the "Boy I want / YOUUUUU!!!" sections. For us, we absolutely adore them, as well as the beat in general, and Rihanna's double-tracked vocals on the chorus, and the way the verses basically feature her singing a call-and-response hook with herself as her own backing vocalist. The thing clocks in at a scant 2:58, but we could probably go for another five minutes on this thing, easy. It should make as a great backing track for some rap freestyles in the last two months of 2011.
Cons: The other immediately striking thing about "Cockiness" beyond the beat would have to be the song's eye-opening chorus ("Suck my cockiness, Lick my persuasion") and similarly less-than-subtle refrain of "I love it, I love it, I love it when you eat it." Not necessarily a bad thing—you certainly couldn't say that Rihanna didn't go hard over this wacky-ass beat—but it can be, uh, a little distracting.
Hard "R" Lyric: Take your pick, really, but we're quite fond of "She may be the queen of hearts / But I'm gonna be the queen of your body parts."
Single-Worthy?: A conundrum for sure. Like "Countdown" off Beyoncé's 4, it might be a song that's too good not to release as a single, but too crazy to get ever much traction once promoted. (And even "Countdown" didn't have the added hindrance of a chorus and refrain that are going to call for a whole lot of creative censoring.)
Agree with our rankings? Disagree? Think early reviews might have overplayed the sex factor? Heard the entirety of "Birthday Cake"? Leave a comment..