Having never been a big fan of Rihanna I approached this album with hesitant curiosity. Talk That Talk felt like a slightly confused and rushed effort, peaking with some epic pop tracks but more often than not falling somewhere in middling territory as a throwaway full-length consisting of some great singles and some truly forgettable tracks that leant little to the overall experience. Unapologetic is a much better full listening experience, the songs here feel more developed and there's a surprising amount of experimentation. It's a perfectly fitting title, Ms Fenty will no doubt get a lot of flack for duetting with her abusive ex Chris Brown on the sticky sweet Nobody's Business as well as mining a variety of influences to construct the tracks here.
What marks this particular album apart from her previous output is the emotional vulnerability that comes across, in stark contrast to the defiantly confidant Rated R. Stay featuring Mikky Ekko is perhaps one of the most unlikely Rihanna tracks I have come across, a subtle introspective and nuanced ballad, yet it's absolutely exquisite with an undeniably strong vocal performance. What Now features a belting vocal with a great melody and suitably epic instrumentation; it's the kind of track you would expect to hear on a Beyoncé album, and while Rihanna doesn't have the vocal chops to match the beloved Bey, she certainly gives it her all and it works.
The latter half of the album delves deep into emotional territory, dealing with the complications of intense love and flawed relationships while the first half is much more experimental and interesting in terms of production. Switching from woozy sonic trips and drug-referencing lyrics recalling The Weeknd to aggressive electro and dubstep courtesy of Chase & Status and David Guetta. Guetta's hyper masculine beats are always most interesting when paired with a strong female vocal and Rihanna does a good job with him on Right Now and it's interesting that instead of attempting to create another We Found Love this is the only four-on-the-floor club-ready song here and yet it's the second shortest track, clocking in at only three minutes and acting as more of a transitional cut rather than any kind of centrepiece.
Unapologetic moves on from the power pop and dance of Talk That Talk in favor of more hip-hop influenced beats and hazy RnB. Get it Over With's paired-down beat and lush string sounds bring Rihanna into more left-field territory, at any moment you'd expect Abel Tesfaye or Frank Ocean to join in, as do the vocal pitch effects and sonic manipulation on Numb. The Brandy-esque vocal turn on Jump wears its influence on its sleeve and the use of Genuwine's Pony lyrics is unexpected but when the dubstep drop hits the audacity of it is grin-inducing thanks to the slick and assured production. It's true that the album pilfers unashamedly from other artists, from The Weeknd to Michael Jackson, and you get the feeling that a lot of drugs were involved in the creation process, more specifically Marijuana and other downers. It's a dream-like experience, most notably on Loveeeeeee Song (just in case you didn't know this was Rihanna's 7th album there are 7 'e's in the spelling of Love here of course), and perhaps the production outshines Rihanna herself at times, but it's impossible to deny Unapologetic's strong points.
With album number 7 Rihanna branches out musically and reveals a more vulnerable side which expands her overtly-sexualised persona and adds more depth to her as an artist. Personally I think this is one of her best efforts, certainly her most dense and varied, and I'd rather see her take more interesting leaps such as this than rely on bubble-gum pop as she served up on Loud. Unapologetic is just that, an uncompromising entanglement of musical styles laid down with equal amounts of fun and raw emotion and it hints at a longevity and crossover appeal that I wouldn't have previously expected Rihanna to have. If she continues to try new things and bring in more interesting influences to her work without watering them down the way she did previously then the future could be even brighter for this troubled star.