Whatever Rihanna released following the attack by Chris Brown 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 mostly minor-keyed album does work. From the first note of opener Mad House, it is clear things will 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-music-inspired track filled with Spanish guitar and flamenco beats, brought up to date with slick production. The Justin Timberlake collaboration Cold Case Love is a multi-layered, strings-rich lament reminiscent of Timberlake's Cry Me a River.
There are some catchy, lyrically clever songs here, but several - Rockstar 101, Russian Roulette, G4L - are repetitive and over-produced, failing 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 stronger if it could have been based on the merit of the music alone and Brown was left out of it.Topics: Entertainment Flamenco Justin Timberlake Rihanna Umbrella