The movement of R&B/mainstream hip-hop from Beyonce to Pusha T to Nicki Minaj (if half-heartedly) towards a darker, artsier, and more serious (to be taken seriously) sound has led to results that include more consistent albums (whatever that means) but also highlights that are more often interesting than they are good, and lo: no great songs. What’s worse: not a single song here worthy of “FourFiveSeconds” (omitted off the album because its sadness-cum-sunniness scope was too emotional, and this record deals with none of that) or even “Bitch Better Have My Money” (which, admittedly, was lazy, but a banger nonetheless; it was fun, and this record deals with none of that); she had the material but decided not to include them.
The highlight reel: “Consideration,” where a minorer talent upstages Rihanna’s own singing not just on that song, but almost everywhere on the record; “Kiss Me Better” for its direct hooks and maybe“Desperado” for the same reason; the choruses and synth on “Work”; “You took my heart on my sleeve for decoration”; the way she does the rising-yawn of “Mmmm” at the 1:02 mark of that same song; the concussive wooziness of “Woo” (which is second-tier by Hit-Boy’s standards). But on the other hand, we have covers of Tame Impala that is so proud of its counterpoint that it runs 6 minutes (“Same ‘Ol Mistakes”) and R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” (“Love on the Brain”), as in, same arpeggios, same chords, same tempo. What else? A wafting interlude that reminds me that Thundercat’s been mining that sound better his entire career (“James Joint”)? Another interlude that was thrown in in case you forgot that Rihanna could be a physically powerful singer (“Higher”)? The obligatory ballad closer?