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It’s been a highly publicised turbulent year for Robyn ‘Rihanna‘ Fenty, with her assault in February catapulting her into a strange place of sensationalised super stardom that even her mega-hit “Umbrella” didn’t garner.  But whilst she has been ever-present on blogs and gossip pages, she didn’t utter a word on record and her silence transcended into music; we didn’t hear so much as a leaked interlude until very recently.

Rihanna didn’t talk until the promotional engine was in motion, leading many to regard Rated R as the aural response to her relationship with Chris BrownThe rhetoric of not allowing love to keep her in a negative relationship – found in “Stupid In Love” – and likening love to a deadly game of “Russian Roulette” would support this theory.  However Rihanna is not a songwriter, so whilst her personal life helps to add a realistic context and ardency lacking on her previous albums (in particular, tracks like “Take A Bow” or “Unfaithful”), these songs are hardly autobiographical.

Rated R, does, however, represent a different place for Rihanna. Coining it as her ‘most personal album ever’, Rihanna seems keen to express that she’s imparted as much of her own personality on the record as possible.  If we’re to believe Rated R is inspired by her own creative expression (and not great A&Ring, styling and media training), Ri-Ri is overtly assertive in her sexuality, edginess and her aim to position herself as pop’s latest rebel.  From its dark imaging to flirtation with [diluted] dubstep production – and Rihanna’s first ever Parental Advisory sticker – Rated R fully realises the concept initiated by her previous album; that of a Good Girl Gone Bad.

But beyond the brand and gimmicks, Rated R presents a growth in Rihanna’s vocal ability and production that complements her distinctive tone (which became annoying on her previous releases).  Surprisingly the album veers away from the electronic sound most R&B pop acts have been championing this year, and production (provided by Chuck Harmony, The-Dream, Stargate, Chase & Status and Tricky Stewart) convincingly dabbles in dancehall, Hip Hop, dubstep and rock respectively.

Most surprising is that Rated R has no songs that are really bad and I didn’t find myself rushing to forward any track while acquainting myself with the album.  That said, there are of course tracks that stand out; “Hard”, “Russian Roulette”, “Rockstar” (which features Slash) and “Rude Boy”.

Whilst not bursting with the obvious chart singles of Good Girl Gone Bad, Rated R will probably be the most critically revered collective piece of work in Rihanna’s career.

Rated R is out now on Def Jam.

Tahirah Edwards Byfield