Rihanna's new album is an ode to her abuser Chris Brown
R&B star is Unapologetic about relationship with the man who beat her up. But does it make good music?
DISTURBING IS not a word used often by reviewers of mainstream pop albums, but it crops up repeatedly in early critiques of Unapologetic by Barbadian R&B star Rihanna.
That's because the biggest inspiration behind the singer's seventh album is her on-again off-again romance with fellow pop star Chris Brown, the man who once beat her so badly she was left with major contusions on either side of her face, a bloody nose, a split lip and bite marks on her arms and fingers.
Many of the songs on Unapologetic are informed by this abusive relationship, but it's track No.10, a duet with Brown himself called Nobody's Business, that's getting the most attention. It is shot through with declarations of unrepentant love such as "You'll always be my boy, I'll always be your girl" and "Your love is infectious, let's make out in this Lexus".
According to The Guardian's Alexis Petrides, "It's hard to think of another perky disco-house number featuring a victim of domestic abuse duetting with her abuser about how perfect their relationship is." Rihanna might argue that she's only telling the truth about how she feels about Brown, "but that doesn't make hearing it any more edifying."
MTV's James Montgomery concurs. "If you worry about the example she's setting by openly — and defiantly — embracing the man who assaulted her four years ago, then you're going to have a difficult time with most, if not all, of the record. That may not be fair, but it's inevitable."
Neil McCormick at The Daily Telegraph is positive about some of the music, in particular the songs on the first half of the album where "melodious vocals sweeten pushy dance club tracks full of abrasively ear-catching sound effects". But he, too, struggles to separate Rihanna's personal life from her new music. Listening to Nobody's Business he comes to the conclusion that "these two ridiculous narcissists deserve each other".
For The Mirror's Priya Elan, the album's main problem is not the subject matter but the dizzying range of styles and the uneven quality of the music. The second half, he complains, "finds Ri-Ri flipping through more styles than Lady Gaga at a sample sale."
In the absence of another classic Rihanna hit – a We Found Love or an Umbrella for example – Unapologetic does just enough to keep Rihanna "chugging along". "There's a growing sense that the golden age of Rihanna The Pop Star has passed," he writes.