Janet Jackson

Rihanna is horny and gets right into the action on her sixth album in as many years, Talk That Talk.

Apparently, “S&M” and “Rude Boy” were mere foreplay.

Following in the footsteps of the sexualized pop albums of Madonna’s Erotica and Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope, Talk That Talk is just plain down and dirty. On “Cockiness (Love It),” Rihanna, in her most dominating tone, chants “I love it when you eat it” before demanding, “Suck my cockiness and lick my persuasion.” Under a Bangladesh-produced beat that pilfers South-Asian rhythm, the song scintillates. She shows a tad bit more restraint on “Birthday Cake,” which features every possible dessert innuendo stuffed into 90 seconds. And for those who may need a little bit more help, Rihanna offers a how-to on “Watch n’ Learn” telling that “just because I can’t kiss back doesn’t mean you can’t kiss that.”

However, unlike those aforementioned albums, which sought hypersexual lyrics as a path to self-discovery, Talk that Talk has no other end but sex. Like the video for first single, “We Found Love,” the album is all smoke screens, aiming for meaning through the superficiality of calculated, shocking imagery. It gets to the general problem with Rihanna: Despite a long list of No. 1 hits that rival Madonna and Mariah Carey’s records, she continues to be a cipher, a perfect conduit for trends from Caribbean girl-next-door to edgy good girl to now clubbing sex kitten without any lasting impression.

Her aims at warmth and feeling on tracks like, “We All Want Love” and “Farewell” fail because of Rihanna’s lack of vocal charisma, let alone talent. Of course, Rihanna can still bring the big-priced producers who can be counted on to crank out hits. “We Found Love” and “Where Have You Been” sparkle with their sweet, simple lyrics and relentless Ibiza-inspired beats. And at moments, Rihanna brings energy when allowed to exhibit a freewheeling, laid back attitude, such as on second single “You Da One.”

But for a singer who has been in the business this long and who has actually released an album of surprising maturity in Rated R, Rihanna should know better than to produce an album so indistinct and even at 37 minutes, with so much filler. For all her posturing on album covers and fashion magazines as an edgy trendsetter, Rihanna continues to produce music that talks the talk without walking the walk.  

Printed on Tuesday, November 22, 2011 as: Sixth album fails to impress, excite