Given the right tools and the right affinity for statistical Internet wonkery, you could probably make a telling graph of how suddenly excited people got that Rihanna would be working with Calvin Harris on the first single from her upcoming album. Can you blame anyone? That album will be her third in as many years. Unlike Rated R, it doesn’t have a concept, nor is it meant to be a reboot like Loud was from all that conceptual darkness. It isn’t even meant to have be a transition from Loud; single “Cheers (Drink to That)” has yet to close its tab on the charts. Between the time frame and the still-linkable NPR songwriting-camp piece, you suspect Rihanna’s team writes songs like they’re midway through a game of Cake Mania and have to shove their accumulated tracks off the conveyor belt yearly to avoid an icky mess.
Leading that production line: a song with Calvin Harris. Sure, why not? The thump emanating from his corner of the club isn’t all that different from that of Stargate or Guetta’s corners, but at least U.S. radio hasn’t yet been flooded with his work. His name is new. His sound might be new. Hence, excitement! Listen below to see whether any of that’s merited.
If you’ve heard “Bounce” with Kelis or Harris’s solo single “Feel So Close,” you’ve heard this, but since that metaphor’s meaningless outside a certain radius of the United Kingdom, Australia or New Zealand, it means endless rinky-dink synths and house beats, sweetened in places and darkened in others but never enough to interfere with the repetition. It’s made for clubs where people don’t dance so much as wave their hands in air doused by sprinklers and fog machines.
In other words, the sound’s relentlessly polite, and Rihanna sings to match. She doesn’t go huge like “Only Girl (in the World)” but instead adds singerly flourishes: sudden head voice (compare her turn on Nicki Minaj’s just-released but long-ago-recorded “Fly”), trained bounces up the scale after half her notes, pools of vibrato after the other half. She’s never sung better nor sounded prettier, as you learn and learn again.
Grace and prettiness alone can’t make a hit, though, and “We Found Love” doesn’t soar so much as hover in one place. For all the song’s length, there are about two melodic lines; for all the lyrics, half are “we found love in a hopeless place,” anthemic enough to unite dance floors but eventually hollow. (What hopeless place?) And even that’s lucid compared to some of the verses (yellow diamonds? a heartbeat in your mind?) Lots of people in lots of clubs will find transcendence in “We Found Love,” but it’ll be as much due to the company on the dance floor and their own thoughts than anything Rihanna or Calvin provide.