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.