A GIRL LIKE ME
On the surface, Rihanna looks like another case of Post-Beyonce Songstress Syndrome: the trilly soprano, the showy melisma and the cluster-tone harmonies so favored by today's R&B divas, all evoking the long and curvy shadow of their paragon.
But give a listen to "A Girl Like Me," Rihanna's sophomore album, and it's clear she knows more than just the Knowles-isms.
The 18-year-old chanteuse from Barbados has an even harder act to follow: herself. You couldn't ask for a more auspicious debut than 2005's "Pon De Replay," a club-rocking jam that practically screamed "one-hit wonder."
But Rihanna and her producers -- among them her paragon's paramour, Jay-Z -- do some very smart things on this album, not the least of which is the first single, "S.O.S.," a "why-didn't-I-think-of-that" sampled remake of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love."
Sophomore slump avoided, Rihanna actually digs into some ambitious pop ballads: "Unfaithful," an honest account of dishonesty; "A Million Miles Away," tailor-made for mangling by future American Idols; and "Final Goodbye," a dramatic Celtic-tinged lullaby that makes you think this girl could actually be something.
Of course, there are the requisite trips to the dancehall to showcase her Caribbean heritage: "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Break It Off," where she trades verses with Sean Paul. The album is rounded out by some solid hip-hop-influenced songs, such as the lightly crunked "We Ride."
As it turns out, Rihanna ends up having a much broader musical palette than the wannabe-yonces.
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Final Goodbye," "We Ride"
-- Dan Charnas