Rated R Rihanna (CD)

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 February, 2010, 12:00am

Whatever Rihanna released following Chris Brown's assault on her, was going to be heard in the context of that incident. The 21-year-old's fourth album Rated R is darker than anything she's done before, and it's a harder Rihanna who sings mostly about love gone wrong.

Sadly, there is nothing to even begin to match the brilliance of Umbrella, but the largely minor-keyed album does work. From the first note of opener Mad House, it is clear things are going to be very different.

Second single Hard is a reassertion of strength and new confidence, with self-promoting lyrics: 'Brilliant, resilient, fan mail from 27 million.'

Stand-out tracks include Te Amo, a Latin-flavoured track filled with Spanish guitar and flamenco beats. The Justin Timberlake collaboration Cold Case Love is a multi-layered, strings-rich lament which sounds a little like Timberlake's Cry Me a River.

There are some catchy, lyrically-clever songs here. However, several - Rockstar 101, Russian Roulette, G4L - are repetitive and over-produced, and fail to show off the singer's unique voice.

While Rated R is an effective platform for Rihanna's brave new pop, it would have been even stronger if the focus had stayed on the music alone, and left Brown out of the picture.