Rihanna, “Loud” (Island Def Jam)
It’s been five years since Rihanna released her debut CD — and now she’s putting out her fifth album. But Rihanna isn’t typically an album’s artist. Her first two discs, “Music of the Sun” and “A Girl Like Me,” had hits that dominated the dance floor, but to call them well-rounded albums would be a bit of an overstatement.
She’s back on track with “Loud,” an 11-track set that is top-notch from its opener, the jamming fetish-revealer “S&M,” to the closing number, the sequel to the riveting abuse tale “Love the Way You Lie,” where Eminem this time takes a back seat to Rihanna’s emotional roller coaster ride.
And what’s in between is equally fulfilling — or better. “Cheers (Drink to That),” which samples Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You,” is a certified frat-party anthem that alreadysounds like a monster hit. And collaborations with Drake and Nicki Minaj on “What’s My Name?” and “Raining Men,” respectively, are enjoyable uptempo jams.
Rihanna knows how to sing a song about leaving a man: She did it beautifully on the pop tune “Take a Bow” and does it again on the exceptional “Fading.”
But on the reggae track “Man Down,” the 22-year-old is truly at her best. It’s a compelling song about Rihanna shooting her lover in public and calling her mother to detail the news. “Run, bum, bum, run, bum, bum,” a terrified Rihanna says in her homeland accent — while singing falsetto breakdowns — over a fire-alarm beat. –Mesfin Fekadu, The Associated Press
Keith Urban, “Get Closer” (Capitol)
Keith Urban boils his sixth studio album down to the essentials of what fans expect from him. Of the eight songs, six explore relationships in relentlessly upbeat, guitar-driven arrangements; the two ballads address commitment and the joys of a strong, ongoing bond, as his love songs often do.
The new songs don’t delineate from the star-making course Urban has followed for the last decade.
But the new material does, concisely and consistently, prove why that formula works so well for him.
(Besides the discounted eight-song album, a deluxe version sold at Target stores adds three new studio cuts and four live concert favorites.)
The album’s first hit, “Put You in a Song,” sets the positive tone for his country rockers, all built on catchy riffs and propulsive rhythms that lean on Urban’s identifiable sound of modern looped beats, earthy banjo notes and plenty of slashing electric guitar. Other rockers, especially “You Gonna Fly” and “Long Hot Summer,” find fresh ways to capture cheerful snapshots of relationships in their formative phase.
That may sound rote, but Urban manages to keep his work engaging without straying beyond his comfort zone. –Michael McCall, The Associated Press
The Floacist, “The Floacist Presents Floetic Soul” (Shanachie)
It takes a brave woman to release a smartly wordy, quiet soul-hop album on an independent label, what with November’s major-label glut of loud superstar product from Kanye, Rihanna and Cee Lo.
But Natalie “The Floacist” Stewart is a slam-champ poet, rapper, and singer renowned for her sharply lyrical work with neo-soul’s sweetest-sounding duo, Floetry. They collaborated with toughs like the Roots and Mos Def. The Floacist can hold her own.
Using the principle of “poetic delivery with musical intent” that she’s used in past settings, the Floacist’s halting flow gives a quivering fluidity to each line she sings and speaks. There’s a jump, a wiggle and a giggle to her voice, whether toying with carnal passions (“Need You”) or entreating karmic force (“Alright Then”) through the gauze of soul-jazz ambience.
Sensuality for the Floacist may come with firm commitment on her flighty Fender Rhodes-filled ballad “Forever” with Musiq Soulchild. Yet she sounds equally committed to facing down fear, as in the militaristic groove of “The Stand.” –A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Bruce Springsteen, “The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story” (Columbia)
This brand spanking new Bruce Springsteen extravaganza includes three CDs, three DVDs, an 80-page notebook with the Boss’ handwritten notes, typewritten lyrics, photos, and to-do lists that shed light on the original “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”
The “Darkness” backstory proves as interesting as the front man and the album crafted to follow “Born To Run,” Springsteen’s springboard to notoriety. Essentially, this new archival package reveals Springsteen’s stand to thwart a friend’s intent to commandeer his career. The ensuing lawsuit kept the Boss out of the studio for a time yet sparked in Springsteen a prolific, grueling songwriting stretch and intense months of rehearsal in the recording of “Darkness.”
As it turns out, the Boss was holding back. A lot. Released today, the archival package includes “The Promise,” a.k.a. “The Lost Sessions” CD with 21 “Darkness” recordings that never saw the light of day until now.
One of the DVDs documents the making of “Darkness.” At one point in the footage, the Boss differentiates between “artistic instinct” and “artistic intelligence.” When making the album, his fourth, at age 27, Springsteen was something of a spring chicken. The film’s vintage footage shows a not-yet-buffed-out Bruce, but his impassioned vision is anything but scrawny. Juxtaposed with contemporary footage of Springsteen in his 60s, the documentary demonstrates just how much the Boss has developed: musically, emotionally, intellectually (and muscularly).
With “Darkness,” Springsteen said he set out to create an “apocalyptic grandeur.”
He succeeded. Released in 1978, just weeks after I graduated high school, “Darkness” served as a beacon and delivered angst-easing anthems, particularly “Badlands” and “Promised Land.” E Street Band members reminisce in the documentary and rock the concert videos.
An ultra-insider look into artistic process, the “Darkness” uber deluxe set’s liner-notes-on-steroids takes the shape of a scuffed spiral notebook, Springsteen’s songwriting medium. Imagine picking up the Boss’s journal, scrapbook, and to-do lists. Oh, to be a graphologist and grasp what his funky letter “Ts” suggest! –Colleen Smith
Colleen Smith is the author of “Glass Halo”–a novel selected as a finalist for the Santa Fe Literary Prize — available at Denver bookstores and on Amazon.com.