It must be the holiday season, because there are a load of high-profile albums coming out over the next few weeks, many of which are hitting the streets today. This week marks the unveiling of Kid Rock's Born Free, Bruce Springsteen's The Promise (a collection of previously-unheard demos and tracks from the Darkness on the Edge of Town era), Nelly's big comeback album 5.0 and "American Idol" winner Lee DeWyze's Live It Up. But perhaps the most talked-about release of the week is Rihanna's Loud. Coming hot on the heels of 2009's dark, moody Rated R, Loud finds Rihanna settling back into the club-friendly groove of her earlier releases and slathers irresistible melodies on top of futuristic production from StarGate, the Runners, Polow da Don and Tricky Stewart.
So far, Loud has been embraced by critics looking to evaluate Rihanna's career as a whole. "Loud is, at points, a powerful reminder of Rihanna's skills before the 2009 Grammys incident changed how we read her songs," wrote critic August Brown in the Los Angeles Times. "The minor-key moments are still her best: 'Only Girl (In the World)' revives the chilly trance of 'Disturbia' with a newly vigorous vocal performance."
In a three star review, AllMusic's Andy Kellman was enthusiastic if not a bit more reserved. "One song that sounds nothing like anything else in Rihanna's past is 'Skin,' a contender for anti-gravity slow jam of 2010," he wrote. "The low points — the cluttered 'Complicated,' the unfinished-sounding Nicki Minaj collaboration 'Raining Men,' the overwrought rock weeper 'California King Bed' — weigh the album down."
Emily Mackay of the U.K.'s New Musical Express agreed that the album is good but is sometimes undone by its inconsistency. "If Rated R seemed disparate sometimes, Loud's experiments feel more organic, its tone better paced, from the Caribbean-tinged anthem for doomed youth of 'Man Down' via the glossy, dark tectonic beats of 'What’s My Name?' (featuring Drake) to the ludicrously banging trancepop of 'Only Girl (In The World),' she wrote. "The only track that drops the ball is 'California King Bed,' a howler of a ballad, with shlocky acoustic intro, trite piano and a faux-Slash solo that punctures the album’s fresh unity."
The Washington Post's Chris Richards finds Rihanna talented but Loud somewhat inscrutable. "This album makes you wonder if Rihanna's ever lived anywhere else than behind a microphone. She's a technician above all, and can credit her success to a massive fan base that finds such uber-precision irresistible," he wrote. "Loud is resistible. And impenetrable. And largely forgettable."
The final word goes to , who gave Loud an "A-" grade and noted, "At times the album's lurid sexuality can feel forced: kink as oversold diva commodity. What Loud showcases best, though, is a star undefeated by her worst circumstances — and finding redemption in exactly the kind of pop nirvana that made her famous in the first place."
What do you think of Rihanna's new album? Let us know in the comments!