There’s a Maria Bamford joke about success and how to maintain it: “Make a million dollars, and then just fucking coast.” That’s where Rihanna is with Talk That Talk, her sixth studio album in six years. The record has already generated a Top 10 single (the Calvin Harris-helmed “We Found Love”), and will surely crank out a few more. Talk The Talk hits on all the obvious points. It’s a pop/R&B crossover with commercial dance-club appeal that simultaneously plays up Rihanna’s aggressive sexuality and her Juliet-in-waiting naïveté. She goes from the sweetly rapturous “You Da One” to the raunchy verses of “Suck my cockiness / Lick my persuasion” on the Bangladesh-produced “Cockiness (Love It)”—all the while maintaining her stony, deadpanned vocal delivery. Add in an obligatory Jay-Z cameo on the title track and a sparingly used dancehall-inflection throughout. It seems erratic, but it somehow works, at least musically.
Lyrically, Talk That Talk veers much too close to melodramatic prattle. The succession of song titles like “We Found Love,” “We All Want Love,” and “Drunk On Love” make for shallow generalities that would belie any real emotion. By the time Rihanna coos, “I’ll let you in on a dirty secret / I just want to be loved,” on the third-to-last track, “Roc Me Out,” it’s almost laughable. But Rihanna is a performer, not a songwriter. What she sings is less relevant than what she sells: a provocation that is enough to seem empowering, but not so radical that it’s alienating. Talk That Talk is a nearly perfect album for Rihanna—even more so, really, for her gainfully employed, carefully picked production team.