One of Rihanna’s talents as a pop star is her ability to convey exactly how she’s feeling in the moment. Her art has imitated her life, starting with 2009’s dark-hearted “Rated R,” released the same year Chris Brown, her boyfriend at the time, assaulted her. The next year she bounced back with “Loud,” a return to the infectious dance-pop that made her world famous with hits like “Umbrella.”
“Unapologetic,” her seventh studio album in as many years, is a defiant middle finger to her critics, particularly the ones who don’t approve of her relationship with Brown. Given how exuberant her catalog has been, it’s surprisingly moody at times. Even the club bangers (“Phresh Out the Runway” and “Numb,” featuring Eminem) are heavy with bass that rumbles more in your chest instead of rattling your feet.
Ballads work well for Rihanna, and this album has two of her finest. Riding a dubstep beat, “No Love Allowed” presents the Barbados-bred singer in her element. On “Stay,” her chemistry with Mikky Ekko, her duet partner, is magnetic.
And then there’s “Nobody’s Business,” a breezy duet with Brown that feels more like a calculated PR move than an honest-to-God proclamation of their undying love. It hits a sour note with Rihanna’s opening verse: “You’ll always be mine/ I’ll sing it to the world/ You’ll always be my boy/ I’ll always be your girl/ Ain’t nobody’s business.” (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “No Love Allowed”James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.