Rihanna has no fear of a sophomore slump. Less than 9 months after her first full-length album Music of the Sun she is back with a second set that is better than the first. She roars in with the current hit single "SOS" and takes listeners on a whirlwind tour of contemporary reggae pop, soul, and a hint here and there of rock. This is quality radio material.
A Significant Artist
When Rihanna emerged in the summer of 2005 with the dance floor filler "Pon De Replay" it was impossible to know whether she could follow it up or if that record would live as her moment in the spotlight. There was nothing else as arresting on her first album Music of the Sun, but, when "SOS" was rushed at as a single far in advance of this album, it became apparent she had more to offer.
The most important accommplishment of A Girl Like Me is that it establishes Rihanna as a significant pop artist with contrasting shades of reggae and urban soul. This album is far from being a masterpiece, but it contains a few dynamite songs surrounded by an album's worth of music that is pleasing to hear. It is a second album that will leave fans happily looking forward to the third.
More Hits to Come
"SOS" is unlikely to be the only major hit single here. "Unfaithful," a brooding tale whose masterful lyrics from Ne-Yo equate cheating with murder, is already on a quick path up the pop singles chart. The bracing reggae pop of "Kisses Don't Lie" or the futuristic dancehall anthem "Break It Off," featuring reggae's hottest artist of the moment Sean Paul, are both candidates for widespread pop radio airplay. "A Girl Like Me" and "We Ride" will likely appeal to urban audiences.
A Girl Like Me is not without its slower moments. The album is divided into two halves. The first includes the current hits "SOS" and "Unfaithful" and finishes with the smoothly soulful "Final Goodbye." The second half kicks off in high style with "Break It Off" but runs out of gas with a series of lackluster tunes that unfortunately highlight the occasional weaknesses in Rihanna's voice. She has yet to develop powerful pipes that can rival the pure vocals of Beyonce or Mary J. Blige, but the right musical setting shows off her vocal skills while masking the imperfections.
Rihanna Summer #2?
Last year's "Pon De Replay" has already taken its rightful place in the hall of fame of memorable summer pop hits. It's rare for an artist to rule summer airplay in consecutive years. However, the tandem of Rihanna's "SOS" and Sean Paul's "Temperature" already has fans thinking of summer in the first days of May. If "Break It Off" is released to audiences in the wake of "Unfaithful," it's quite possible that the hottest Caribbean vocal duo yet could rule the summer from the beaches to backyard bbq's.