Despite sounding rushed to capitalize on fourth quarter sales, 2010’s Loud proved that Rihanna’s reign indeed would not let up. The album’s first three singles topped the Hot 100. A fourth one merely went Top Ten. Just as Loud was losing its grip, during the fourth quarter of 2011, Rihanna fired again with another number one single, “We Found Love” -- its success more likely due to the singer’s ecstatic vocal than Calvin Harris' shrill, plinky production. While Talk That Talk is built like another singles-chart-devouring machine, it’s both more rounded and less random than Loud. “We Found Love” and “Where Have You Been” -- the latter with a quote from Geoff Mack's “I’ve Been Everywhere” and echoes of the chorus from Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” -- function as place-holding dance tracks, and there are a couple empty anthems and ballads in the drippy “We All Want Love” and the bombastic “Farewell.” It’s the darker and dirty-minded material that tends to be most effective -- where Rihanna is more alive and believable, where her collaborators provide the most adventurous productions. In the Bangladesh-produced “Cockiness (Love It),” one of the most hypnotic and wicked beats of the last decade, Rihanna absolutely relishes the chance to sing-taunt “Suck my cockiness, swallow my persuasion.” Two of Stargate and Esther Dean's three contributions -- the desperate, xx-sampling “Drunk on Love“ (“Nothing can sober me up”) and the prowling “Roc Me Out” -- pack more sleek menace than Rated R's “G4L” and Loud’s “S&M.” The album’s best track, however, is the wholly sweet and flirtatious “Watch n’ Learn,” featuring a dizzying Hit-Boy beat -- rat-a-tat snares, swirling/swelling synthesizers, irresistible plucked melodies -- that is even more unique in the context of 2011 pop radio than his work on Kanye West and Jay-Z's “Ni**as in Paris.” Behind Good Girl Gone Bad and Rated R, this is Rihanna's third best album to date. Minus the fluff, it's close to the latter's equal.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman