Music

Rihanna: Good Girl Gone Bad

The midyear 2007 rankings in Female Rhythm & Pop: 1. Beyoncé, 2. Rihanna... Wait. What? Rihanna?!


Rihanna

Good Girl Gone Bad

Label: Def Jam
US Release Date: 2007-06-05
UK Release Date: 2007-06-04
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Awww yeah, it's on now, y'all. With the release of Rihanna's Good Girl Gone Bad (GGGB), her third, the field of female R&B-spilling-into-pop (yes, "Rhythm & Pop"), has just gotten a little more interesting. Although her previous release, A Girl Like Me, increased the shine of Rihanna's rising star, it also revealed her weaknesses. A Girl Like Me proved most enjoyable when it drew from the rhythm and sound of Rihanna's native Barbados. While Alison Hinds of the band Square One is surely the Queen of Soca, Robyn Rihanna Fenty was the Bajan Princess who rocked the dancehall.

Well, it's a year later, and the Princess has taken her game a step further. Team Rihanna (Yay! Go Team!) devised a strategy to keep the homegirl in the limelight. Let's check it out:

1. Framework: What do we know about Rihanna? Well, she's young and bright and sounds adorable with Chaka Khan's I Feel For You-like studio effects. In fact, go back and listen to I Feel For You and note the structural similarities between Chaka-Chaka-Chaka-Chaka Chaka Khan's album and Rihanna's. Both accented key singles with rap solos, though it was of course a bigger deal when Chaka did it in 1984. Chaka had Grandmaster Melle Mel for "I Feel For You" while Rihanna has Jay-Z for "Umbrella". Not bad, not bad. I prefer Melle Mel but, hey, it's all good. Both albums rely on danceable singles dominated by computer wizardry, which sometimes renders the mood kind of hollow and over-processed -- I never really believed Chaka "felt" for the person in the title song but the production tricks turned the Prince-penned tune into an amazing sonic treat. Admittedly, Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire" and "Stronger Than Before" are the exceptions, and Team Rihanna doesn't seem to be contemplating a run at that type of material. Play to your strengths, I always say. Good choice.

2. Just Like Wendy's, We Make Singles: Anybody who's anybody knows how great it is to have a bangin' single to help promote an album. Ergo (you have to say "ergo" when you've just said something obvious), Team Rihanna gives us a sizable collection of the suckers for GGGB. Frankly, any track from this set could work as a single, even the ones I don't like that much.

On the lead single, "Umbrella", Rihanna starts singin' in the rain after an opening rhyme from Jay-Z, the current champ of cameos. One of the more intriguing songs you'll hear about an inanimate object, "Umbrella" finds Rihanna taking her sweet time, stretching her gritty croon to soothe her mate, "When the sun shines, we'll shine together / Told you I'll be here forever". Last year, she was in dire need of assistance, going so far as to send out an "S.O.S." -- "Someone come and rescue me", she said.

This year, she's a protector, a comforter, ready to provide shelter from the proverbial storms, but not with the attitude of Beyoncé's "Suga Mama". Nah, Team Rihanna knew better than to go down that road. Rather, it's a ladies-eye-view of Johnny Gill's "Fairweather Friend" (except Gill was a "bridge" over "troubled waters"); it's the sunnier side of Mary J. Blige's "Everyday It Rains"; and it's the lyrical prequel to Alicia Keys' "Diary", the stage in the relationship before the intimate secrets are exchanged.

"Umbrella" is a monster, so much so that I'll even confess to spending a portion of a rainy afternoon practicing the hook, "You can stand under my um-buh-rrel-LAH… el-LAH… el-LAH… eh… eh… eh." That's how she sings it -- um-buh-rrel-LAH -- and you gotta really pop that "b" to get it right.

Singer Chris Brown evidently liked the song so much, he has added his vocals to it, chiming in, "You can be my Cinderella", and he sings it at Rihanna's pace -- Cinnnn-der-rel-LAH. The song works rather well as a duet because, after all, isn't that what people do with umbrellas? They share! (Good idea, Chris. I tell ya, that young man is somethin' else.) A remix with raps from Lil' Mama instead of Jay-Z has also been floating around. Soon, there's going to be more versions of "Umbrella" than answer records to U.T.F.O.'s "Roxanne Roxanne".

Thanks to Team Rihanna's decision to enlist songwriters and producers like Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, Timbaland, J.R. Rotem, Ne-Yo, StarGate, and Terius Nash, the songs are clever, if not classic. Take, for instance, "Shut Up & Drive".

Every so often, a song comes along that makes a Prince fanatic like me say, "Prince didn't write that but it sure sounds like he did!" In 1994, it was TLC's "Waterfalls". This year, that song is "Shut Up & Drive", a swerving rock-infused ditty that upgrades Vanity 6's almost intolerable (at least to human ears) "Drive Me Wild" ("Ooh, look at me, I'm a Cadillac") and shifts "Little Red Corvette" into reverse: the car does the talking while the would-be driver keeps quiet. I suppose it's the word "qualified" that reminds me of Prince, as well as the cadence of the verses, as Rihanna opens with, "I've been lookin' for a driver who is qualified / So if you think that you're the one, step into my ride". She then proceeds to immerse herself in the role of the "fine-tuned supersonic speed machine" with "a sunroof top and a gangsta lean". The ending, where I presume the daring driver of the Rihanna-mobile loses control and crashes, absolutely cracks me up. Ha! You can't handle Rihanna! You gotsta tighten up yo' game, son!

"Shut Up & Drive" is Aretha Franklin's "Freeway of Love", but sassier. It's Michael Jackson's "Speed Demon", but without the Speed Racer motif. Keep thinking and you'll conjure up a bunch of like-minded car songs (which is a fun game to play on road trips). "Shut Up" would've fit comfortably on Gwen Stefani's first album, alongside tracks like "Crash", "What Are You Waiting For", and "Bubble Pop Electric". Hell, it's practically screaming to be the marquee song for a pickup truck commercial -- can I get my finder's fee for that one?

Most of all, it's catchy as hell. I caught myself in the grocery store humming part of the chorus, "My engine's ready to explode, 'splode, 'splode", right in the middle of the frozen food aisle. It turns out that people with questioning, confused looks on their faces don't respond well to "Hey, it's Rihanna," coupled with a timid shrug.

In addition to "Um-buh-rrel-LAH" and "Shut Up & Drive", GGGB is loaded with dance numbers. Last time, the ballads brought the party to a crawl. In the review for A Girl Like Me, I blamed the lyrics in songs like "Unfaithful" for the problem; others might blame the vocals. Take your pick.

But this is a new year and, accordingly, Team Rihanna seems determined to keep the party moving with "Push Up On Me", which is basically a Part Two of last album's "Break It Off", although I could have done without the sample of Lionel Riche's "Running With the Night". It's nothing against Lionel Richie. In fact, I love his song -- pulling off drive-bys to "Running" is one of the reasons I still play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City -- but I didn't love the song's gong sound running with this track.

The song that follows, the Michael Jackson-sampling "Don't Stop the Music", inspires the type of tail feather shaking you can only produce when you're chanting, "Ma ma say, ma ma sah, ma ma koo sah", from "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'". Hee hee! Take that, Ciara! If only they could've worked in the "You're a vegetable" line from "Wanna Be"! That would've been classic, almost as awesomely bizarre as Jill Scott's Tarzan impression (I don't know any other way to describe it!) at the finish of Who Is Jill Scott?'s "He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)".

But, did someone mention a "ballad"? I used to like ballads…

3. That's "Ballad", not "All Bad": Did you know "all bad" was an anagram of "ballad"? Well, forget that -- just know, this time around, that Rihanna's attempts at balladry aren't all bad. Actually, I'm not convinced they count as full-fledged "ballads", but you should at least check out "Hate That I Love You", a duet with other wunderkind Ne-Yo. It has a "So Sick" feel to it, but isn't it just a little bit catchy? And smooth? C'mon, admit it, you know Ne-Yo is a smooth dude. If I had a daughter, I'd definitely warn her about that Michael Jackson-dancin', tennis shoe wearin' kid, especially the way his voice seems to melt over a backdrop of luscious guitar strumming and sappy-go-lucky handclaps. "Don't fall for it," I'd tell my daughter, but you know how the story goes. She'd fall, and fall hard, like an egg on hot concrete.

The other non-party numbers don't match "Hate That I Love You", but they pass muster. There's Shea Taylor and Ne-Yo's whispery, existential production of "Questions Existing", as Rihanna sings, in the slow, angst-ridden whine she has in common with Nelly Furtado, "Who am I living for? Is this my limit? Can I endure some more?" There's also a contribution called "Rehab" from the two Tims, Justin Timberlake and Timbaland. You have to know, when "Rehab" begins with the violins and cellos, that J.T. is somewhere around -- it's like a remix of Timberlake's own "What Goes Around". Timber could've used it for himself, maybe as a b-side or a soundtrack item, but he let Rihanna have it, complete with his own background vocals, something like Babyface's collaboration with Madonna on "Take a Bow" and "Forbidden Love" from Bedtime Stories. That's awfully kind of you, J.T. Team Rihanna will go ahead and snatch that little gem, thank you very much. And, no, it's not tax deductible.

The weakest song? In my opinion, it's "Say It", where Rihanna pushes for interpersonal communication, but it's tough to take it seriously with its Kelis-style rap. I appreciate the Caribbean vibe of this song, even if it does seem a little canned, like a lounge act on a cruise ship (boy, does that sound like Simon Cowell or what?!). Also, you gotta love how "Say It" incorporates elements from Mad Cobra's "Flex", but I really do wish this song had been omitted from the tracklist. However, one complete dud out of twelve ain't bad. And even if the "dud" pops up when I set my playlist to "shuffle", I shouldn't have any trouble letting it play out … eventually.

The U.K. version of GGGB contains the bonus track "Cry", in which Rihanna exhibits "all the symptoms of a girl with a broken heart" but refuses to show her tears. It's a cute song, but if you're stuck with the U.S. release, don't sweat it: you're not really missing anything.

4. Image: The album title says it all, from "good girl" to "bad girl", suggesting material that's more raw, perhaps edgier and more risqué, along the lines of TLC's "Good at Being Bad". Well, chalk it up as another smart move from Rihanna's handlers because, when you get right down to it, the supposed transformation of Rihanna (like, perhaps, Mariah's The Emancipation of Mimi) must be a state of mind. She's not really any "badder" than she was on her previous releases. Not even the title track owns up to actually having "gone bad"; it's more of a warning against treating "girls" badly because "once a good girl goes bad … she's gone forever." If anything, the content has "gone bad" in that non-threatening Michael Jackson "I'm Bad, I'm Bad, sha-moan" sort of way. In the movie The Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey's character fools the police for the entire film by pretending to be crippled and far too meek to be a ruthless criminal. At the end, he offers this jewel, "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist". Apparently, Team Rihanna's trick is to insinuate that he does.

There is, however, more attitude on Good Girl Gone Bad, like in "Breakin' Dishes" when she talks all kinds of smack about a dude who might be cheatin', and says on the chorus, "I'm breakin' dishes up in heah / All night (uhn huh) / I ain't gon' stop until I see police and lights (unh huh)". But it's not Beyoncé's "Ring the Alarm" or Kelis' "Caught Out There" (see also: "I hate you so much right now! AAARRRGH!"). What it is -- what it all is -- is pure entertainment, a musical funhouse mirror that reflects today's breadth of girl talk: a little bit of Gwen, a dash of Kelis, some Beyoncé, a shade of Pink. Rihanna is a little girl messin' around in a grown woman's closet, playin' dress up in front of the bathroom mirror ("Look, Mama, I'm Kelis! I betcha I can do Gwen Stefani!"). This is cottony, radio-friendly ear candy, folks, and it's so fresh and so clean (clean!) it'll make you say, "Aww shucks! Isn't that sweet?"

The twist, though, is that she's gotten pretty damn good at it. It's just that I don't want the "Bajan Princess" to disappear. While there are flashes of her reggae and soca roots on this project in "Sell Me Candy" and "Lemme Get That", as well as in her voice, the influence is less apparent here than on A Girl Like Me. I'm cool with her expanding her range, and I also dig the diversity of sound on this record, but I want to remind Team Rihanna that her Bajan roots could be important in distinguishing her from the competition. The mainstreaming of Rihanna's talent, for the "urban" U.S. market especially, runs the risk of making her generic, even while it inches her closer to being Ashanti's successor to the "Hip Hop Princess" position. Is it merely coincidence that the one album with no writing credits for Rihanna is also the album with the least offshore influences? Hmmm….

It's going to be interesting, then, to see what's in store for Rihanna. Right now, she's not a vocal powerhouse of Chaka Khan's caliber -- not many singers are -- so the chances of her getting away with a remake of, say, "Through the Fire" would be miniscule. The layering of two or more Rihannas can sound better than a lone Rihanna, but she's still gonna have to eat her Wheaties, a hundred bowls of Total, and a steady supply of energy bars to go note-for-note with Beyoncé, the Queen Diva of Rhythm & Pop. Nobody, not even Team Rihanna, wants to bring that showdown to fruition anyway.

But then again, like I said last year, she's still young, not even 21 yet! I'm rooting for her longevity, the same way I'm rooting for the return of Res or stronger solo output from Gwen Stefani or the Beyoncé album that will blow us all away. Now that Rihanna has persuasively made the case that she's got staying power, the question existing is, as she says, whether she's reached her limit. My vote says she hasn't. But you know how it goes in the world of music. We'll have to stay tuned.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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