Monday, 3 October 2016

RIHANNA: Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded (2007-08)

Good Girl Gone Bad is the moment Rihanna broke through the sound barrier and entered the zeitgeist.

According to Wikipedia, the release of this album is where Rihanna's run really started -- between 2008 and 2012, she released an album every year, and completed her transition from a minor league pop singer to a really big star. 

Following its release in 2007, Rihanna re-released the album with four new songs. This Reloaded edition is the one I will be rambling about today.

The opening track,  'Umbrella', was the big hit, and helped break Rihanna as the next big thing. Sure, she'd had a few hits before, but 'Umbrella' showed that she was more than a one-hit wonder. I heard the chorus so many times on the radio that it's made me immune to its other charms. It's a good song, but that never-ending chorus puts me in a terrible place.

Next up is 'Don't Stop The Music'. Rihanna built her career on a few songs built on the bones of older hits. Good Girl Gone Bad has two of the best examples of this approach in this song and 'Shut Up and Drive'. 'Don't Stop The Music' takes a sample from Michael Jackson's 'Don't Stop Till You Get Enough'. Regardless of its roots, the song manages to stand on its own legs. I would compare it to the remix of SWV's 'Right Here', which interpolated samples from MJ's 'Human Nature'. The result is a song that quotes a familiar song in a way that does not simply echo the earlier song.

While I was familiar with most of the songs on this album, the real finds were the deep cuts. One that really stood out is 'Breakin' Dishes'. Backed by a urgent beat, the singer rages against her unseen cheating boyfriend. She gets so mad waiting for him to come home she destroys her house and declares she's 'gonna fight a man tonight.' It's a bit dark and funny, and feels like an early sign of the darker, kinkier territory Rihanna would explore in her next album.

'Shut Up And Drive' follows. A fast paced dance number, its origins in 'Blue Monday' are easy to point out, but the song feels completely its own, with such a difference in tone and style that it feels completely seperate.

In contrast to the electronic sturm und drang of the first half of the record, 'Hate That I Love You' is a nice, low key duet with Ne-Yo. Backed by some acoustic guitar and a clapping chorus, it is a change of pace from the bass-heavy dance numbers of the first part of the album. From this track, the tone and style of the album shifts away from the synth-laden toe-tappers to more introspective songs.

Of this section, 'Rehab' is an easy standout (bonus points for the strings), but its success overshadows other tracks like the title cut and 'Say It', which are solid album tracks.

'Lemme Get That', in particular, is an interesting genre-bender: it starts as a fairly standard club track and then switches into a ballad before switching back again. 'Question Existence' is another track that deserves a higher profile -- it feels of the same ilk with the earlier 'club' section , but paced like a slow jam. All in all, there are no real duds here.

This is the first album Rihanna made where it felt like every song was a potential hit. This edition includes the four bonus tracks recorded after the album's original release. 'Disturbia', written by her then-boyfriend Chris Brown, was a big hit, and is a pretty memorable track, but it doesn't stick to the ribs like some of her other hits.

'Take A Bow (Main)' initially sounds like a sequel to Christina Aguilera's 'Beautiful', but winds up generating a melancholy vibe all its own, minus the off-putting sincerity of the Aguilera track. Even though it was not part of the original track list, it provides a terrific finale to the set.

This deluxe edition also includes with the oddly enjoyable duet with Maroon 5,  'If I Never See Your Face Again'. Some critics compared it to songs by Justin Timberlake and Jamiroquai, which is probably why I enjoy it so much -- it builds a pretty strong groove. It's a little bit of a bummer that the vocals aren't better. Rihanna and Adam Levine have no chemistry whatsoever (she was parachuted in as a late replacement for Janet Jackson, who might have been able to carry this kind of number off) but it's a testament to the composition and production that the song manages to carry itself to the finish line.

All in all, Good Girl Gone Bad Reloaded is a terrific pop record with no real weak links. It put Rihanna on the map as one of the biggest pop stars of the late noughts, and inaugurated the most successful stage of her career.

Previous reviews

Music of the Sun 

A Girl Like Me 

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