Good Girl Gone Bad
Plucked by Def Jam brass out of "nowhere" (Barbados, actually), and shown the path to world dominance on the inescapable Diwali pulse, which owned the past few years ("Pon de Replay"), Rihanna has, like any 19-year-old on her third bazillion-selling record, grown up a little bit.
"Umbrella" is radio's current inescapable earworm. It's both minimal and huge, with drums way out in front, a grinding synth low-end, and Rihanna's stunning, clipped "ella ella ella eh eh eh"—a voice turned into flashing panes of glass. Us-against-the-world tunes are fun because the nature of the relationship and the trouble that it needs to survive remain occluded behind the constant protestations of fidelity and strength. "Umbrella"'s fierce gloom implies any number of things, hinting at both marriage vows and the obsessive teenage friendship of Heavenly Creatures.
Despite the high-tech gleam, "Umbrella" is the only song with any Barbados—the trilling way Rihanna lets a note end, or the way she milks syllables for pure rhythm and sound—in it. Elsewhere, the album dutifully tries out a number of songs by the producers of the moment (a great house-y track by Norwegian producers Stargate, a few offerings from Timbaland, a couple of tunes co-written by Ne-Yo). It's got a little bit of everything we've been hearing for the past 18 months, built for maximum replayability from Hamburg to Ham Lake. Or, if you like, filler.
It's not that these songs are bad—the high points are high—it's that the album feels like it's covering other people's bases. There's precious little R&B or reggae left. The biggest dud is "Shut Up and Drive," an overdriven guitar stomp built on "Blue Monday"'s chassis, nakedly aiming for Stefani sass, but having no character at all. But I have no problem with those cinematic eh eh eh's coming out of every car window in the world from now until fall.