On “Numb,” only the third song on “Unapologetic,” Rihanna tunelessly repeats precisely what is required of the listener to enjoy her new album: the phrase “I’m going numb” insists the designated effect on both the singer and her public. What is needed to enjoy this, her seventh album, is to turn off.
It’s not so hard turning off when dancing, on diversions like “Right Now” featuring David Guetta. She puts on a saucy little number in “Jump,” borrowing heavily from Ginuwine’s “Pony” and re-purposing it for a dubstep mash-up.
Turning off proves more difficult when the album seems to be catwalking off in a half dozen different directions, starting with infernal headache “Fresh Off the Runway.” This album could have kicked off with any other track — SERIOUSLY, ANY OTHER TRACK — and made more of an impact than this colorless boaster of explicit lyricism. But to make “Unapologetic” to appear without apologies, there’s a slavish tromp through it; the new so-so single “Diamonds”; the aforementioned “Numb” with Eminem; and exasperating non-song “Pour It Up,” a Mike WiLL-produced experiment which is far more aimless and depressing than its title implies.
There’s also a required suspension of disbelief as she and on-and-off again ex Chris Brown sing “Nobody’s Business,” making it her literal business to spin her famous assault for profit, commoditizing her private life ironically into Everybody’s Business. She also will have the attentive listener wincing through reggae exercise “No Love Allowed” and its lyric “…Your love hit me to the core / I was fine until you knocked me to the floor,” with an extraordinary vocal performance and zero drums. It’s a call for attention, and once she has it, she exclaims “I’m so lost in Paradise” on her final saddy song.
Ballad “What Now” is probably the most indicative of Rihanna’s wandering status: between fuzzed-out synths and bassy heartbleats, she sings “The more I swear I’m happy, the more that I’m feeling alone /
‘Cause I spent every hour just going through the motions… I don’t know what to feel / I don’t know how to cry
I don’t know-oh-oh why.”
It, inexplicably, is followed by another bleak ballad (though sonically disparate from the last). I don’t know-oh-oh why.