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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Rihanna, Adam Lambert and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, November 23, 2009

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“Rated R”

Def Jam


The truth of the matter is Rihanna’s latest album would have received plenty of attention even if then-boyfriend Chris Brown hadn’t assaulted her the night before this year’s Grammy Awards. After all, 2007’s “Good Girl Gone Bad” went double-platinum and launched three No. 1 hits, including the ubiquitous “Umbrella,” and the Barbados native had also established herself as a worldwide fashion icon. But there’s no denying that in the usual perverse way current events put a new spin and a little bit of extra heat on “Rated R” — and will surely send listeners scouring the lyrics for references to the Brown incident since the album was recorded afterwards. Those certainly appear to be there; “I thought I saw your potential/Guess that’s what made me dumb,” Rihanna sings during “Stupid in Love,” ultimately declaring, “The dumb’s cap is off/You don’t know what you’ve lost.” And in “Cold Case Love” she laments that “What you did to me was a crime...and I let you reach me but that’s enough.” So take those at their apparent face value, but know that “Rated R” is a decidedly different album than Rihanna’s three predecessors, edgier and darker and angrier, perhaps expressing a post-Brown mood but without too many direct references to that chapter of her life. The first single, “Russian Roulette,” finds her being tutored in the game to a loping bounce-beat. She defiantly reflects on stardom in “Wait Your Turn” but promises “the Rihanna reign won’t let up” amidst the synthy throb and drone of “Hard,” which is peppered by a Young Jeezy rap. Justin Timberlake wrote the six-minute epic “Cold Case Love” which, like “The Last Song,” ends with a stinging guitar solo. “G4L” shifts between hip-hop styled verses and melodic choruses, while the will.i.am collaboration “Photographs” builds from a gentle acoustic opening into a full fledged dance break in somewhat jarring fashion. Slash brings guitar crunch to “Rockstar 101,” and a core of hitmaking writers and producers — Ne-Yo, The-Dream, Ryan Tedder, Stargate, Chase & Status — are on board to give Rihanna plenty of fresh textures and feels for these 13 songs. It’s not always pretty, but “Rated R” feels real and Rihanna wears the changes well.


Adam Lambert, “For Your Entertainment” (19/RCA) ***

Fun, flamboyant, energetic, over-the-top — what else would you expect from an Adam Lambert album? This year’s “American Idol” runner-up pumps up the cheeky approach he took to the competition, resulting in one of the most consistent debuts — and, for that matter, overall albums — to come out of the “Idol” stable. He gets plenty of top-shelf help here, with contributions from Lady Gaga, Pink, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo and members of Muse, Eleven and The Darkness, as well as behind-the-scenes hitmakers Linda Perry and Ryan Tedder, but it’s Lambert’s abundant personality that drives “For Your Entertainment,” from the bombastic Queenisms of the opening “Music Again” to power anthems such as “Sure Fire Winners” and “Pick U Up” to earnest balladth” and “Time For Miracles.” There’s plenty of moody fare, too, including “A Loaded Smile” and “Broken Open,” resulting in the rate set that lives up to the hyperbole of the “Idol” cache.

New & Noteworthy:

Beyonce, “I Am...Sasha Fierce (Deluxe Edition)” (Columbia) and “I Am...Yours: An Intimate Performance at Wynn Las Vegas” (Columbia): Beyonce bulks up her latest album and also gives us an earful of it in concert on this pair of holiday week releases.

Birdman, “Pricele$$” (Cash Money): The New Orleans rapper’s fourth album features multiple guest appearances by Lil Wayne and Drake, along with T-Pain, Bun B, Kevin Rudolf and others.

Susan Boyle, “I Dreamed a Dream” (Columbia): The “Britain’s Got Talent” breakout’s debut includes the titular “Les Miserables” tune that made her famous, plus songs by the Rolling Stones, the Monkees, Madonna, Patty Griffin and others.

Boys II Men, “Love” (Decca): The Boyz take the covers route here, putting their spin on love songs by Bonnie Raitt, Journey, the Beatles, Cyndi Lauper and others.

Bill Cosby Presents the Cosnarati, “State of Emergency” (self-released): The actor/comedian/activist teams with a collective of East Coast rappers for a slamming set of social commentary.

Engineers, “Three Fact Fader” (Kscope): The British noise rockers’ sophomore album follows their debut by four years.

Lady Gaga, “Fame Monster” (Interscope): The Lady delivers an EP featuring eight new songs, with a Deluxe Edition that also includes her already platinum “Fame” album.

Bob Seger, “Early Seger Vol. 1” (Hideout): The gamblin’ man makes a tentative 10-song ramble into his extensive vaults, coming up with four previously unreleased tracks, three of which are bolstered with newly recorded additions.

Shakira, “She Wolf” (Epic): The Colombian singer’s third English language album includes collaborations with Wyclef Jean, Kid Cudi, Lil Wayne and Spanish versions of three songs, including the title track.

Soundtrack, “The Princess and the Frog” (Walt Disney): Ne-Yo, Dr. John and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard are among those contributing tracks here, with Randy Newman providing the instrumental score.

Angie Stone, “Unexpected” (Stax): The soul singer drew on emotions following her father’s death to help inspire songs and performances on her latest album.

Thirty Seconds to Mars, “This is War” (Virgin): Led by actor Jared Leto, the modern rock trio’s third album will have 2,000 different album covers featuring fan photos from around the world.

Tom Waits, “Glitter and Doom Live” (Anti-): A concert chronicle from the idiosyncratic singer-songwriter’s romp through the U.S. and Europe in 2008.

Wale, “Attention Deficit” (Allido/Interscope): The Washington, D.C., rapper rolls on his own after guesting with the Roots and Lily Allen.

Jimmy Wayne, “Sara Smile” (Valory): The country singer co-wrote four of the songs here, with Keith Urban chiming in on one and, of course, Daryl Hall & John Oates’ title track.

New Holiday Albums: Andrea Bocelli, “My Navidad” (Sugar); Vera Lynn, “Vera Lynn at Christmas” (EMI); Mantovani Orchestra, “Christmas Carols” (Collectors’ Choice); Soundtrack, “Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas” (SLG); Various Artists, “A Very Special Christmas 7” (UMe); Hayley Westenra, “Winter Magic” (Decca)

From The Vaults: James Brown, “The Singles Volume 8: 1972-1973 (Hip-O Select); Buddy Holly, “Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings and More” (Hip-O Select); Britney Spears, “The Singles Collection” (Jive); Rush, “Working Men” (Anthem/Atlantic); Townes Van Zandt, “In the Beginning...” (Fat Possum); Neil Young, “Neil Young,” “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” “After the Gold Rush” and “Harvest” (all Reprise)

New Music DVDs: Genesis, “The Movie Box” (Rhino); Indigo Girls, “Live at the Roxy” (IG/Vanguard); Metallica, “Francais Pour Une Nuit (French For One Night)” (Warner Bros.)

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