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Rihanna: where to start in her back catalogue

The album to start with

Rated R (2009)

By 2009, the idea of the “rebel album” – a record by a (typically female) pop star that aims for darker, more mature subject matter (see Janet Jackson’s Janet, or Christina Aguilera’s Stripped) – had become a bit passé. Rihanna, however, had more reason than most to want to refresh her creativity after a globally dissected violent assault by her then-boyfriend Chris Brown shifted her media narrative from pneumatic hitmaker to helpless victim. Rated R acts as the most glorious riposte to the latter notion, reasserting her control via rawer, more ragged music and imagery slathered in inky black molasses.

Rihanna referred to the album’s creation as “therapeutic” and the opening suite of songs immediately defines one of her survival instincts: bullet-proof defiance. UK producers Chase Status concoct a menacing, dubstep-adjacent beat for the prowling Wait Your Turn, while the appropriately named Hard employs industrial-strength bravado (“brilliant, resilient, fan-mail from 27 million”) to paper over any cracks in her armour. As well as trying out different genres, from the aforementioned dabbles in dubstep to the excellent Fire Bomb’s 80s OTT rock balladry, Rated R also sees Rihanna sparring with more cliched masculine tropes. So the Slash-assisted Rockstar 101 finds her revelling in tortured genius territory, rolling lines like “sleep all day, long nights” around in her mouth with renewed relish, while G4L’s bass-heavy hip-hop peacocking features more natural charisma than an entire compilation of male rappers could muster.

Still, Rihanna’s personal life bleeds into the morbid atmospherics of mid-tempo lead single Russian Roulette, specifically during the excellent, emotionally charged

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