Rihanna probably wouldn’t have made this album last year. She couldn’t have. Back then she was addressing the fallout from her assault by former boyfriend Chris Brown and released “Rated R,’’ a dark and unflinching work that rattled her fans while pushing her artistic limits.
“Loud,’’ her fifth release since 2006, is that album’s antidote, an unabashed return to where Rihanna belongs: the dance floor. As if liberating herself from the depths, she’s a force on these 11 songs, hop-scotching from electro-pop [“Only Girl (in the World)’’] to Top 40 balladry fit for Taylor Swift (“California King Bed’’).
As usual, there are throwaways amid the keepers, but it’s hard to tame a pop star who scratches her way out of the gate with an ode to kink. “I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it,’’ she brags on the opening “S&M’’ before teasing, “Sticks and stones may break my bones/ But chains and whips excite me.’’ Too bad she then drowns that sass in a beer on “Cheers (Drink to That),’’ a drinking song as generic as the title suggests: “Don’t let the bastards get you down/ Turn it around with another round.’’
More than her previous records, “Loud’’ is all about Rihanna’s fighting side. Over a reggae bounce, the Barbados-born singer plays an outlaw on “Man Down’’ (as in, she shot him). And “Raining Men,’’ borrowing a digitized riff from Beyoncé’s “Diva,’’ features rising rapper Nicki Minaj on a typically manic guest rhyme. The song’s message doubles as the album’s mantra: Some cats really do have nine lives. (Out tomorrow)
ESSENTIAL “Raining Men’’