Well this is certainly different, isn't it? Amidst all the speculation and anticipation, Rihanna's gone and recorded an album of sparse, emotionally dark pop music without an obvious single in sight. It's easily the strongest statement (and album) of her career so far.
1. Mad House - An intro, so I won't give it a number grade. It's somewhat frustrating, because this would have made an interesting full song and should have been one. Also, it doesn't segue into the next track very well at all. As a statement of intent, though, it works.
2. Wait Your Turn - This is the album's "buzz single." I was instantly taken with the chorus, especially the way it opens up the harsher, less melodic verses. The braggadocio before she drops her guise mid-album. 9/10
3. Hard (ft. Jeezy) - A smart single choice in this hip-hop obsessed country, I didn't think I'd like this as much as I do. It's got a tough sound, and Rihanna spends more time rapping than singing, really. Another attitude-driven song. 9/10
4. Stupid In Love - The first overtly Chris Brown related song, this has the classic Rihanna ballad feeling to it. It could have easily been on her last album. The big difference comes lyrically, and the lyrics here are very nice. 9/10
5. Rockstar 101 (ft. Slash) - Probably the weakest link on the album. The bombast is all there, but it lacks a real melody. It's meant as a posturing song, but with Slash on guitar, I feel like she could have come up with something more dramatic and classic. 7/10
6. Russian Roulette - The soaring guitar solo that opens this fits perfectly after the last track, and kicks off the string of songs that make this album such a triumph. The chorus to this is still quite good, though it's more of a mood piece than a smash single. 9/10
7. Firebomb - One of the absolute standouts, Firebomb features a soaring melody, chugging pop guitar and lyrics that are at once very personal and totally universal. If released as a single, this could do wonders for her career. It's beautiful. 10/10
8. Rude Boy - Taking a cue from Beyonce, this trancey, r&b-flavored uptempo packs more of a punch than I realized on first listen. It does slightly break up the theme of the album's second half, but it's one of the catchiest tracks on the album. 9/10
9. Photographs (ft. will.i.am) - This is what the Black Eyed Peas would sound like if they weren't annoying. It reminds me of a sped-up version of Cheryl Cole's 3 Words, which is a very good thing. The track has a subtle, shimmery feel, complimented by will.i.am's more aggressive rap. 10/10
10. G4L - A moody revenge fantasy, this is incredibly dark material. It's not overly concerned with melody, but that's okay. It's pretty compelling regardless. The lyrics are over-the-top ridiculous, but delivered in a truly chilling way. 9/10
11. Te Amo - Already a number one hit in Brazil, this is melodically one of the strongest and poppiest songs on the album. Lyrically, it tells the story of another woman coming on to Rihanna, and Rihanna's attempt to let her down gently. The synth after the chorus is gorgeous and very trancey. 10/10
12. Cold Case Love - The late-album highlight, this Timberlake-penned track is nothing short of extraordinary. Beginning with a dramatic, organ-backed classic rock melody, by the time this is over it's exploded into a full-on epic. The drums, when they finally come in, are spine-tingling. The lyrics, too, are genius. 10/10
13. The Last Song - Flowing naturally from the last track, this continues the rockier, dramatic sound. The lyrics here are very dark, presumably detailing a suicide, or at the very least a death. Extremely atmospheric and moody. 10/10
Album Grade: 9.3/10