Rihanna: the worldwide phenomenon. Ever since "Pon De Replay" hit the airwaves in 2005, the music industry and music fans alike have been buzzing about this Barbados-borne songstress. She released her first album, "Music Of The Sun" in August 2005 and it has sold over 2 million copies so far. People must have liked it. Now, hot on the heels of her first album comes a very quickly dispatched sophomore album, "A Girl Like Me". Having enjoyed "S.O.S." and "Unfaithful", and hearing fairly good things from friends about it, I decided to take the plunge and make the purchase. And after I took the plunge, and listened thoroughly to the CD, I realized that I had plunged a little too deep; in fact, I drowned! This album is far from what I expected; in fact, it is amazingly much more paltry than what I had dared hope for.
Starting off with the first single, S.O.S., you'd come to believe that Rihanna means serious business this time with a dancefloor-friendly synth hook (although it was heartlessly stolen from Soft Cell -- "Tainted Love" will never be the same again...) and an infectious chorus where she wants someone to rescue her... from love? I'm afraid I can't relate with such genetic issues. This is a decent song, and one of the two reasons why people ran out in droves and purchased this album. "S.O.S." has become overplayed on radio and on music television stations; as a result, you may have heard the song too much and you're probably be sick of it already. Admittedly, it has lost a fair amount of its edge for me. "Oh! Oh!"
Kisses Don't Lie has a more calypso feel, but still falls short of being particularly interesting. A slower mid-tempo number, "Kisses Don't Lie" tells about...um...oh, hold on, I'm terrible at this. Um...she doesn't want to put effort into a relationship with a man she doesn't trust. I think that's what it's about. Yes, that's what I'm sticking with! While this is certainly not the worst song on the album, it falls short of having a true catch to it, and feels more like stuffing between "S.O.S." and the next track, Unfaithful, which ended up being the second single. "Unfaithful" is the other overplayed song, but it's not something you'd particularly want to dance to. It's one of those heartfelt slow songs by nature, but the sentimentality is often lost by Rihanna's overstrained vocals. It sounds like she's just trying too hard; a little more subtlety in the voice can do wonders for emotional impact. But then again, this is mainstream... this is commercial... I doubt this is intended to make the masses weep. You want sad music? Listen to the Titanic soundtrack.
Riiiiiiiide... the next track, We Ride, is a chill-out R&B-style number, and surprisingly, it's actually a catchy song. I admit to driving on a sweet sunny afternoon with this song blasting out of my speakers, feeling good, feeling spunky, feeling carefree. Joy. But what's with that frantic hi-hat going on in the background? It's particularly annoying; I thought there was something wrong with my CD player the first time I heard it. And guess what! Her voice is more subdued, and that's why this song is more enjoyable... now just remove the hi-hat thing and it could be close to perfect. This is actually her third single from the album -- hopefully the radio version removes the incessant hi-hattery!
Next is reggae fun with Dem Haters, featuring the vocal talents of a guy named Dwane. Dwane Husbands, that is. Title grammar aside, I just wasn't interested in this song at all. It feels fairly bland with minimal variety. Rihanna's duet partner isn't a bad vocalist by any means, but he just sounds too generic for this coupling of voices to become meaningful in any way. Final Goodbye continues the trend of easily-forgotten songs. Upon listening to this, I pictured some medieval maiden crooning away by a stream. Then I wake up from my mental slumber and realize, "Oh wait. It's Rihanna. D'oh!" While the backing instrumental aspect (in this case, a nice guitar or, if I dig deep into my guitar lingo, perhaps a precious lute) is pleasant, I still believe this to be an average song with no particular highs or lows.
The now infamous incoherent shout-outs of Sean Paul make an appearance on Break It Off, which feels just like a rap song with a female chorus that just doesn't have any particular hook. Sadly, this is yet another easily skippable track. I can't say I'm a major fan of rap music, although some of it is definitely more enticing that other examples. Sean Paul is actually more coherent on this record when compared to some of his previous works. Rihanna doesn't seem to play much of an important role here, aside from singing in the chorus about nobody really knows what. "Break it off, boy / 'Cause ya got me feelin' naughty / I wanna know, boy / If I could be your shawty". Shawty? R.I.P. English Language.
More reggae frolic (plus the occasional strange laser noise that doesn't belong in this song) follows with Crazy Little Thing Called Love. I know you might think that this is a cover of Queen's song of the same name, but actually it's completely different! Wow. Creativity. *blink* It's a very simplistic and upbeat song with a slow and steady beat, the kind of tune where you can just bob your head back and forth without a care in the world. Alright, this song isn't so bad; however, the next song sounds far too similar! Upon initial listening, I thought the previous song was still playing, but such is not the case -- it's Selfish Girl. The similarities to the previous track are amazing; all that's missing is the rap antics of some fellow who calls himself J-Status. Whatever. I'd rather not listen to Rihanna admit to being a selfish person; I think I already knew that after she took my money and gave me inadequate reciprocation for it. I'll skip this as well.
P.S. (I'm Still Not Over You) is another slow R&B-style adventure that is very laidback... and dull! It's just Rihanna crooning over some light guitar and a somewhat gritty bass-drum-and-snap combination. What is it with all these boring songs? I'd hate to hear what tracks they omitted from their possible entries to the album. Another quiet but more uplifting tune follows, the title track (A Girl Like Me, if you forgot already). It sounds similar to the previous song, lacking anything outstanding. The Spanish[esque] guitar is actually pleasant though, even slightly angelic in tone. Still, I'll pass on this for the most part.
A Million Miles Away follows the same formula as "Unfaithful", but Rihanna is not quite as loud. Finally, after a slew of unpleasant filler tracks, I have arrived at something with character. A grand piano and faux-string background, eventually accompanied by that funky lute again, effectively supports Rihanna's soulful singing (about her man being far away, no less). If there were more slow songs like this on the album, I'd definitely rate it higher.
As a "bonus track", we get Part 2 of If It's Lovin' That You Want, the original having been released on her previous album -- and that was a positively sanguine song. This remix, however, kills all the charm and ends up sounding more like a 50 Cent song than anything else. You could effectively dub "I'll take you to the candy shop... I'll let you lick the lollipop..." over this song. And maybe you should, since it might deliver an improvement. And who's Corey Gunz, and why is he making a cameo on this album? Oh well. That's still a poor way to end the album, massacring a decent song like this! Oh, how I cry on the inside...
This album was released only eight months after her debut album, and this is quite apparent, as creative thought was clearly stifled during the short development process. "A Girl Like Me" has been selling surprisingly well, but only because of the singles released from the album (which coincidentally are comprised from the few decent songs). That's effective marketing; this is precisely why one should ALWAYS listen to samples of an album before purchasing it! But in the case of this album, I recommend saving your money and investing it in something a little more pleasant -- like a wool scarf or cold cuts.