Sunday, 2 October 2016

RIHANNA: A Girl Like Me (2006)

Released less than a year after her debut, A Girl Like Me finds Rihanna moving into more traditional pop territory, and establishes the quick turnaround of her future releases. If one factors in the Reloaded version of Good Girl Gone Bad, Rihanna managed an album a year between 2005 and 2012.

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.

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