Forget the Mayan calendar and the fabled apocalypse on 11/11/11. The true end of the world occurred 11 months ago when Rihanna released her single “S&M.”


Talk That Talk
Def Jam

At least, that’s what the public seemed to think. The provocative song was met with outrage everywhere, from censorship of the words “whips” and “chains” to the music video’s viewing restrictions on YouTube. It even ruffled the BBC’s feathers, and the song’s title was promptly changed to the less offensive “Come On” when it aired on the radio. And this is coming from a country that revels in the teen sex and drug use in shows like “Skins.”

But instead of taking this censorship as a sign to hold back, Rihanna has treated it like a challenge: Her newest album, Talk That Talk, smolders with enough sexual references and graphic lyrics to make even Lady Gaga look like a prude. Talk is a red-hot album that fuses risk with the artfully risqué, never hesitating to cross into the most erotic themes or beats.

At its best, Talk That Talk is daring. Rihanna takes a chance when it comes to musical style, using more hip-hop tones than the cheesy dance music she used in the past. In “Birthday Cake,” she steers clear of heavy-handed melodies to focus on rhythm. Deep, thumping bass replaces instrumentals, and vocals are spoken steadily instead of wailed. The music is simple, and that’s what makes Talk so alluring: Rather than getting caught up in gooey pop sounds and tunes, the album lets its sensual messages take center stage.

If Rihanna’s new musical style brought her into the ranks of hip hop, consider her bawdy lyrics extra credit. Talk That Talk’s words are as dirty as the raunchiest rap song, complete with specific sexual fantasies and less-than-subtle innuendos. “Cockiness (Love It)” is as explicit as it sounds: The doe-eyed artist sings, “Baby be my sex slave / anything that I desire” and, “Suck my cockiness / lick my persuasion.”

Even songs about dancing, like “Roc Me Out,” are surprisingly graphic. Could anyone believe lines like, “Rock me out, back and forth” and, “I’ve been a bad girl, Daddy / won’t you come get me” are actually about a club?

Despite its explicit nature, her frankness is tantalizing. But there are some moments that cross the line between artful sexuality and cheap shock factor. Title track “Talk That Talk” has all the makings of a hit, but it ultimately suffers from Jay-Z’s over-the-top contributions. It’s just too hard to take the father-to-be seriously, especially when he talks about hooking up on the beach, buying “reefer” and how often he’s propositioned for sex when he’s “just trying to chill.” After all, doesn’t he have a nursery to decorate? Even Rihanna is guilty of subpar verses at times, as cringe-worthy lines like, “I love it, I love it, I love it when you eat it” are hard to ignore.

Still, Talk That Talk has that guilty-pleasure charm that not even the crassest moments can take away. It’s the kind of album to listen to in your teenage bedroom with a smirk, praying your parents won’t walk in and hear. It’s brave, rhythmic and smoothly sexual — and the newly pubescent gang from “Skins” just can’t compete with that.

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