HANDLE WITH CARE; CD OF THE WEEK.
Rated R ***
The showbiz scandal of the year was given a public face this spring as pictures leaked out of the injuries Robyn Rihanna Fenty had sustained in a post-Grammy attack by former boyfriend, and fellow chart-topper, Chris Brown.
Unsurprisingly, in the months that followed, as Brown pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to community service and probation, Rihanna kept her counsel and out of the limelight.
Now, following her defiant reappearance with heavy hitters Jay-Z and Kanye West on Jay's We Run This comeback, Rihanna uses the attack and media fallout to further push the development of her own image and career.
On this, her fourth album, Rihanna is almost unrecognisable from the callow 18-year-old who released the Soca and Dancehall inflected Music Of The Sun debut in 2005.
Darker, heavier musical hues than those on her international smash Umbrella colour this album. She adopts stances that are tough (the unconvincing G4L, ie Gangster For Life) and, particularly on the Stargate-produced Rude Boy, registers controversial reactions to her attack.
The severe, Grace Jones-alike haircut and partially-obscured face on the cover are in keeping with the new warrior woman image.
"Let me tell you something, I have never been a size 10 in my life." So begins the glowering Stupid In Love, the album's key song, a bruised tale of agonised love where her partner is accused of having "blood on your hands", and she insists that "I may be dumb but I'm not stupid in love."
The rush to capitalise on the media mileage presented by her attack does have unseemly side effects. The range of producers called upon to finish the album in time for the coffer-filling Christmas deadline includes Will.i.am, Ne-Yo and Justin Timberlake. Giving the album a unified sound has obviously not been a priority.
But with former Guns n' Roses' star Slash adding his axe to Rockstar and the splenetic guitar pay-off on Timberlake's Cold Comfort Love, the album is all about making Rihanna into a fiery victor rather than victim. It pretty much succeeds.
TOUGHENED LASS: Rihanna reveals her darker side