Rihanna has had a tough road since her highly publicized assault at the hand of her then-boyfriend and fellow pop star Chris Brown on the eve of last year's Grammy Awards. The statuesque Barbadian R&B singer's next album, Rated R, fell short of the success of 2007's Girl Gone Bad — and some reviewers called it a "violent and contrived" attempt to stand up for herself. And despite seemingly endless tabloid coverage of her troubles, the real Robyn Rihanna Fenty remains a bit of a mystery, say critics. What does she reveal in her new album, Loud, the fifth of her career and the second since her breakup with Brown? (Watch Rihanna's "Letterman" performance)
Rihanna's still a soulless enigma: "This album makes you wonder if Rihanna's ever lived anywhere else than behind a microphone," says Chris Richards in The Washington Post. She's a technically gifted singer, but if "American Idol" has taught us anything it's that "being able to sing a song like you've lived it" — not just in perfect pitch — is what matters most. You don't get that feeling on this "impenetrable" and "largely forgettable" album.
"Album review: Rihanna, 'Loud'"
No, there is genuine emotion here: This "fulfilling" album is "top notch," says Mesfin Fekadu in the Associated Press. On tracks like her sequel to Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie," Rihanna goes on an "emotional roller coaster ride." Elsewhere she demonstrates that she truly "knows how to sing a song about leaving a man." With Loud, Rihanna is "back on track."
"Review: Rihanna is 'Loud' — and clear — on new CD"
Her talent is back — but her feelings are still a mystery: At times, Loud is "a powerful reminder of Rihanna's skills before the 2009 Grammys incident changed how we read her songs," says August Brown in the Los Angeles Times. It sounds like "a hasty move to put tabloid nastiness behind her and get back on the charts." Her attempt at "image recalibration" is understandable, but the forced optimism of some tracks "underscores the one thing we’ve always wondered about Rihanna — what is she really feeling?"
"Album review: Rihanna's 'Loud'"