Going into this album, I was a little less ignorant of the content. I remember 'SOS' blaring from the radio about a million times around the end of high school. I was not a fan of the song, so I was not really looking forward to doing a deep-dive into this one. However, after the joyless dirge of Music of Sun, things could only get better.
Fittingly, the album starts with the one track I know. 'SOS' was one of those songs that was passed around a few times before Rihanna got it. It basically set the template for a decent portion of Rihanna's hits: take a piece of an older song (in this case, Soft Cell's cover of 'Tainted Love' from 1981) and then build a dance number around it.
It's a pretty good song, and immediately wiped the plastic reggae of Rihanna's debut out of my memory. The production is better, and Rihanna's voice sounds a little more older and more confident.
This sense of confidence continues on 'Kisses Don't Lie', which manages to weave a reggae groove within a pop context far more successfully than anything on Rihanna's debut.
Other highlights include the guitar-led ballad 'Final Goodbye', 'Unfaithful' and the duet with Sean Paul, 'Break It Off'. None of these songs rank with Rihanna's best, but they are a massive leap above her first album.
'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' did not turn out to be a cover of the Queen track, but like 'Kisses Don't Lie', the reggae number (featuring J-Status, who guest-starred on Music of the Sun) is a fun little confection that is (as I've already stated) far better than similar tracks from her debut.
While it might not have as many good songs as her later albums, I enjoyed A Girl like Me far more than I expected to. Even with lowered expectations, this album was a good time.
The dance tracks are memorable, the reggae tracks don't feel overly produced, and there are a few tracks where Rihanna experiments with other genres. Overall, it is a decent smorgasbord of different flavors.
Taken as either a stepping stone to the pop gold of Good Girl Gone Bad or an album in its own right, A Girl Like Me is a lot of fun.