The Bottom Line
"Russian Roulette" will never be the crowd-pleaser that Rihanna's mega-hit "Umbrella" is. However, it is a work of gorgeous melancholy and dread. Frequent collaborator Ne-Yo helps take Rihanna into uncompromisingly adult territory in the wake of the domestic violence in her relationship with Chris Brown. "Russian Roulette" is dark, but there is beauty here as well. This is one of the more memorable of Rihanna's growing list of major pop hits.
- Rihanna's beautiful, measured, exposed vocals
- Spare, direct lyrics
- The creepiness of the final gunshot
- Perhaps a bit threadbare in places on substance
- Written by Ne-Yo and Rihanna
- Produced by Chuck Harmony and Ne-Yo
- Released October 2009 by Def Jam
Guide Review - Rihanna - "Russian Roulette"
The music world impatiently awaited Rihanna's artistic response to the tragic events that ended her romantic relationship with Chris Brown. What has appeared is one of the darkest singles released in recent memory by a major pop artist. The record begins with slightly strangled guitar, a heartbeat bass line, and a gasp. It moves just slightly quicker than a dirge and ends in a gunshot. The words create an extended metaphor of a difficult relationship as a game of Russian roulette. The end can come at any moment. What that end would look like is left to the imagination of the listener.
For those who have complained in the past that Rihanna's vocals were lacking in emotional engagement, "Russian Roulette" should put their concerns to rest. The dread and fear are so palpable that the song is painful at some points to hear. The lyrics give no indication of the specifics behind what the protagonist may be experiencing, but it is clear that it is wrenching and threatening.
This type of record should be no major surprise for those who have paid much close attention to Rihanna's evolution as an artist. Life and death metaphor emerged in her music clear back with the declaration of not wanting to be a "murderer" on "Unfaithful." Rihanna's recent "Disturbia" delved into a dark world of mental disturbance and was co-written by Chris Brown. With "Russian Roulette," she guides us even further into a murky, dangerous world and leaves us with an ambiguous end.
The gloomy atmosphere of "Russian Roulette" has not dented Rihanna's commercial fortunes thus far. In its third week on the Billboard Hot 100 it surged a stunning 66 notches to enter the top 10. It has been a fixture in the top 10 of sales on the iTunes site since release. Rihanna shows she has a strong enough audience base to take us all into a corner of the pop music world that perhaps needs a bit of illumination and a shock ending to keep us from getting too comfortable with the everyday pop world.