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Polaroids Of Androids

Record Reviews

8.1

Rihanna
Rated R

Ok, so this is pop music in 2010. Alice In Wonderland ball-tripping visions, strong minded women who wanna fuck like guys do and much less reliance on traditional song formulas.

Over the past few years 'indie' rock, or least the main players (ie. Bloc Party, Kings Of Leon, The Killers etc), has started sounding increasingly unconvincing and contrived in it's attempts to be both commercially successful and maintain some form of alt-rock credibility. At the same time the modern day pop princesses (ie. Ms Gaga, Beyonce and Rihanna) have been continually becoming more and more obsessed with bending the rules and creatively moving their genre forward, while at the same time keeping their integrity intact due to the fact their music sounds completely unforced - after all, they're still making hits, just as they always have done.

All this makes me wonder - has the game officially spun on it's head? Is what we traditionally classified as 'pop music' now the forerunner for music creativity and inspiration?

While several moments on this album still reek of record label 'we need to sell this shit' intervention, it still contains plenty of line-blurring qualities where Joe Public's view of top 40 music is pleasantly mismatched with an overload of conflicting pop and R'n'B cliches.

Rated R starts strongly, with the wacky Thriller-esque intro, Mad House, melting perfectly into the album's two standout tracks, Wait Your Turn and Hard. The former, powered by a ridiculous hybrid of club banger and love ballad chorus, is fittingly complimented by Hard, which, despite a less than spectacular closing verse from Young Jeezy, is the perfect soundtrack for 'knocking a bitch up' and/or waving your crunked hands in the air while partying at your local sweatbox night spot.

Only during the middle portion of the record does Rihanna slightly drag her feet. The ballad Stupid In Love, featuring a predictably soft tackling of the whole Chris 'Tyson' Brown affair, seems to have been included purely because it was expected, rather than for it's musical completeness. Rockstar 101 also sounds too much like a forced rock/pop collaboration attempt, featuring some dull recycled guitar wailing from ex-Gunners Once-Was-Wild boy Slash.

Luckily, the album kicks back into gear before the end with the addictive 'fanny grinding' tune Rude Boy, the future ghetto funk stylings of G4L and the fantastically over-the-top gospel-inspired Cold Case Love all hitting the sweet spot between chart topping polish and some sort of augmented blunt-fueled reality.

People will more than likely hate on me for digging this record so much, but I stick to my initial (slightly exaggerated) comment - pop music might just be the new forefront for musical creativity. The cool kids who think the Big Day Out line-up this year was 'tops' and that Muse aren't an over dramatic bunch of posers with nothing to say, are also the same people not willing to give pop music a try. Which is a shame, as it probably would highlight just how dull and fake most of their modern day rock idols are.

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Rihanna

 

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Comments

spod

This totally started happening back in 2003 with Missy Elliott, Neptunes, Timbaland etc were pushing pop music into insanity as Kings of Leon were plodding their way up the poopcharts. I'll have to check this shit out.

1 decade ago

sorry_charlie

I agree to the totes max. Rhianna kills it. I would lump Olivia Newton John, Madonna, Kate Bush, and Missy Elliot all on that pile as well.

1 decade ago

(nobody)

Thank you, spod. Here I was getting a feeling of deja vu, desperately searching the archives of stylusmagazine.com to prove to myself that I didn't just dream this half a decade ago. Someone else was paying attention.

1 decade ago

Remmy

I agree with spod. I think the song "Hey Ya" and "Missy Elliotts" shit really started something good in pop. The early noughties man... good times...

1 decade ago

reeling

Concur concur concur. See also Justin Timberlake's Justified album, Kelis' Milkshake + Amerie's 1 Thing.

1 decade ago

Jonny Yes Yes

at this point.. can i throw "since you've been gone" in the ring....?

1 decade ago

(nobody)

Still sucks that boring shits like Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus get airtime though. Although I have always wanted to "Party in the USA" to a Jay-Z song.

1 decade ago

reeling

I will always support the KC call, although perhaps less on the 'pushing boundaries' front. Dare I say it, Britney Spears' Slave 4 U was an early Neptunes pop winner in 2001.

1 decade ago

bella

*Since U Been Gone

1 decade ago

bella

also, Britney's 'Toxic' is actually brilliant.

1 decade ago

Seymour

I concur Bella. Toxic is the shit.

1 decade ago

(nobody)

toxic IS the shit. All this time I thought I was alone... and ashamed... and dirty...

I've actually found myself listening to more pop music in general lately. I had put it down to simply looking for something 'new' to listen to, and not finding it in the umpteen KOL-clones and shins-wannabes.

I guess anything that's successful becomes mass-produced and formulaic eventually, regardless of genre.

1 decade ago

bella

I knew you would agree with me seymour!

I'm not ashamed to say I love pop music. 'pop' is such a general label anyway.

1 decade ago

Lochy

"pop music might just be the new forefront for musical creativity".

That’s not really new but is it? Bowie, Beach Boys, Beatles?

True genius will almost always reach the mainstream.

The only difference now is that Pitchfork has allowed a generation of music snobs to admit that they actually like Rihanna by placing her on their end of year lists.

1 decade ago

Jonny Yes Yes

@Lochy

I can't speak for those others throwing their thoughts around in this conversation but here is my original point / thinking..

Sure, music that has been traditionally classified as 'pop' doubling up as the creative trendsetters is hardly a new concept, but think about what has dominated pop music, or at least the pop charts for the past few decades. Besides the occasional hip-hop track sneaking in contrived music industry created turds - backstreet boys, britney spears etc - have had a fairly untouched rule.

I think it's only over the past few years that the kids are starting to wise up and see through the bullshit. Britney can't sing for shit and she struggles to come up with a song (or put her name on a song written for her) that doesn't sound like competely manufactured shit. Rihanna can sing, in fact her voice is fairly amazing (imho) .. and she also has the ability to craft together a song (with some help from talented writers/producers) that exists somewhere between being easily consumable by the 16-year old kid looking for a 'jam' and the 50 year old dude who grew up on the bands you mentioned.. (again, imho) ..

.. and, yeah, Pitchfork has nothing to do with this.. if we listened to them we'd still be recovering our musical wanking wrists from whatever Panda Man And The Animal Collectives released last year...

Again, this is all just what I think on this.. Really enjoying the ideas etc that have been thrown around.. There definitely is about a million different possible perspectives to this.

1 decade ago

josh.o

The Sign by Ace of Base is a perfect pop song - discuss.

1 decade ago

Lochy

That's a very well articulated and strong argument but doesn't the cynic in you sometimes think that this phenomena happened around the same time that pitchfork rose to fame in the early double 00’s?

Certainly not saying POA has formed an opinion from Pitchfork quite the opposite (ie The Grizzly Panda Collective) which is why I am on the website daily but Ryan Schreiber was named in the top 100 most influential people for 2009 and in my opinion he (Pitchfork) has had a significant influence on others.

Also in total agreement with Rihanna, she is a superstar.

1 decade ago

Jonny Yes Yes

Completely agree Lochy, I definitely think the acceptance of mainstream (traditionally described as 'pop') music has been influenced heavily by The Pitchforkers. Whether or not they are supporting it for the ironic value or the right reason, it doesn't really matter - it's getting people comfortable with the idea it's not embarrassing to enjoy this style of music purely because it's commercially success.

While we're hardly blindly following the P4Kers lead, I definitely feel more comfortable that I'm not going to be burnt at the stake for wearing my pop badge with pride, when a 'respected indie source' (respected by the masses at least) is giving the same music their glowing seal of approval.

1 decade ago

Wayne

If Pop music is short for popular music then I guess anything that makes the charts is pop music. But I would think most people define pop music as short, sugary and perhaps throwaway. As in Britney, Pink, etc. But then Beach Boys, The Shins, etc. is also defined as pop music and in most cases would be defined as 'good' music.

So, I think once again labels are purely there to help people place music in a box and make it easy to understand. At the end of the day if you like it then you shouldn't feel embarrased to say so. Personally I don't like Rihanna and the other examples mentioned. I just find the music lacking and light, so it does nothing for me. I think Pitchfork throws in the Timberlakes, Lady Gagas to show that they are not too cool to appreciate pop music. I not sure if this genuine though and if it is not then why do they bother.

Basically I think that acts like Rihanna and The Killers do have one thing in common. Music that lacks any heart or intelligence. If that makes me a snob then so be it. I am happy to be one.

1 decade ago

Lochy

"Not Given Lightly" is a perfect pop song!

1 decade ago

bella

I know that this isn't exactly what you meant Wayne, but I think it's wrong to say that pop music lacks heart or intelligence.

Kylie Minogue is a pop artist but, for example, 'Hand on Your Heart' (in my opinion) is a seriously powerful song. The lyrics are simple but her honesty really resonates. And if you take away the disco beat behind those words (like in the Jose Gonzalez cover) it becomes a truly heartbreaking song.

It's the same with Rihanna's 'Umbrella.' Yes, it's a pop song but I think there's a really nice sentiment behind it.

Just because pop music is easily accessible to a wide audience doesn't mean it lacks heart. And I don't mean I personally want to start listening to the Jonas Brothers, but I can understand why other people do.

1 decade ago

(nobody)

i agree with you 100% bella

and as a side note i recently listened to lady gaga's discography and was pleasantly surprised ~

1 decade ago

Wayne

Bella I take your point. Maybe what I meant is that most pop music (a generalisation I know) is rather formulaic. I am sure Kylie, etc. are trying to write a song as good as they can and more then likely with a lot of conviction but it just doesn't connect with me in a meaningful way. Although I am sure it does with many other people. Hence the large sales.

I guess I believe that a Will Sheff or John Darnielle lyric is more complex and meaningful then a Rihanna lyric. Which connects with me much more. Whether their songs are more enjoyable or complete is obviously a matter of taste.

I am sure there are many people who consider death metal to be the pinnacle of all music and consider everything else trite and trashy.

1 decade ago

flukazoid

I don't feel qualified to comment on pop, as my experience is limited. I was the guy who had no idea what was playing when people played music at parties etc.

Wayne said:

I guess I believe that a Will Sheff or John Darnielle lyric is more complex and meaningful then a Rihanna lyric. Which connects with me much more.


If complex == meaningful, then we'd all be listening to Yes and Ywngie Malmsteen. One does not necessarily mean the other - there is meaning in simplicity. That being said, I think both Sheff and Darnielle and phenomenal writers, so don't take me the wrong way there Wayne.

I think the key is in the "connection" (as you alude to, Wayne), and this is the thing I struggle with - the fact that people do genuinely connect with what I might consider "vacuous" music: and who am I to deny them that?

I think it comes down to where that connection stems from... a lot of people that absorb the pop spectrum aren't actually looking for anything to "connect" with beyond the immediate visceral experience of a song in a given place and time. You go to a club playing Top 40, and the song - and it's ongoing memories - are associated with those times and places. There's no actual "deep" experience of engaging with the work or what it is in and of itself. MGMT got huge because "Kids" (for example) was an amazing moment at the club/party/whatever and so they took that experience home.

Now the machine that produces today's pop music does require talent, and there is a LOT of it out there. Many of the pop artists mentioned in this thread DO have good voices, have great production teams, have great writers etc etc. This is all true, but I think the problem is that even though it is effective and high quality, the stuff is built for a fast burn: a pop song in this century is built for maximum, immediate impact, with no enduring legacy. YES Missy dropped some killer singles back in the day but who is actually listening to them now? No, not at a club as a "leftfield" retro cut that the DJ drops, but in their living room etc etc. Similarly as much as I find a lot to admire in (say) Rhianna's team's product I will be incredibly surprised if it's still getting played in five years. That's the difference in the work ethic between the Beatles and pop music of today.

But it's talented (definitely!) ... and the songs often have real emotional resonance (most definitely!) - but it's the kind of work that's a mist. It dissolves just in time for the next crop of hit singles to arrive...

This has been a horrendously rushed post so I hope it makes sense. I'll be the first to admit that I'm far from the most qualified commentator on current pop music as I just haven't got around to getting amongst much of it. There's definitely plenty to appreciate. I just don't think it's built to last.

Just my 2c.

1 decade ago

flukazoid

(and I wasn't having a go at you Wayne, in case that's misreadable. I just meant that a lot of people seem to take the fact that they're music is more complex as being the marker for quality - which I'm not saying you meant yourself)

1 decade ago

Wayne

No worries Joe. In fact I pretty much agree with just about everything you wrote and I think you articulated an argument far better then I actually did. I think your point about music standing the test of time is a valid one though. The Beatles being a prime example of music that has aged very well.

I think though my thoughts on complex music was more to do with the lyrics then the music. For example John Darnielle writes pretty basic chords, but his lyrics are complex and almost poetic. Some people hate his voice, but that's another matter.
I think Handsome Furs are a good example of a band that writes great music that is probably along way from being complex. But it affects me greatly.

As for the emotional resonance of a song I guess that has to be purely subjective. I know people that cried during Avatar, where I was pretty much falling asleep. So each to their own.



1 decade ago

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