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Rihanna’s ‘Talk That Talk’ Synth-Perfect for an Earlier Time – Distinctionlessness has become something of a calling card and a weapon for Rihanna, the most consistent pop star of the last five years. Last month she became the fastest solo artist in history to have 20 top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, slower only than the Beatles. And she has pumped out these hits with little regard for style or mood — breezy dance tracks rub up against poignant gothically ruptured rock-soul ballads. Her voice is, for the most part, certifiably blank, which is to say it belongs everywhere.

But it hasn’t always had a home. “Talk That Talk” (Island Def Jam), her sixth album, is maybe the first to suggest the answer that’s been hiding in plain sight all along, placing Rihanna squarely at the center of the pop genre best suited for a singer of her fundamental evanescence — dance music, which conveniently is the mode du jour of contemporary R&B and pop.

Rihanna’s version of this sound dates to the club music of the early 1990s, an era in which she would have shined. The best songs on this lively and often great album sound synth-perfect for that time. “We Found Love” almost criminally recalls the swinging Crystal Waters singles, with triumphant percussion somewhere between church and seventh-inning stretch. “Where Have You Been” is even better, with hard, chilly synths, snares from the poppier side of house music, and Rihanna moving in and out of a curled Siouxsie Sioux tone. “I been everywhere, man/ looking for someone/ someone who can please me,” she sings. “Are you hiding from me yeah/ somewhere in the crowd?”

“Talk That Talk” is the blithest Rihanna album, which is saying a lot. It has none of the dark, wounded subtext of her more recent albums, almost no sign of scarring left by her tumultuous and abusive relationship with Chris Brown that seemed to hover over her more recent work. It also signals the extent to which the work of polyglot post-soul, post-dance artists like Santigold and M.I.A. have been absorbed into the mainstream. It’s here on songs like “Red Lipstick” (on the deluxe edition) and “Cockiness (Love It),” on which Rihanna is channeling Neneh Cherry, all pseudo-melodic sass. “Cockiness (Love It)” is a particular triumph, its beat by the producer Shondrae a booming industrial jumble, and Rihanna easing out come-ons as if she were lapping up milk. That’s followed immediately by “Birthday Cake,” 80 seconds of squelchy bounce and consumption metaphors.

Like Jay-Z and Kanye West’s recent “Watch the Throne,” major parts of this album were recorded in hotel rooms, a testament to the globalization and rootlessness of pop, to the outlandish prices of conventional studio time, to the desire to create in an environment of luxury, a liminal space with no repercussions. But that can make for an ungrounded overall experience. When she veers from the fleet stuff, she’s less certain. “Watch n’ Learn,” which has flickers of Beyoncé’s recent “Party,” has good mouthfeel, but no taste. And on songs like “Farewell,” the most bombastic song here, it’s tough to tell if the words have feeling, because Rihanna’s voice doesn’t. When she wants to convey emotion, as on “Drunk on Love,” she essentially shouts the lyrics — “I wear my heart on my sleeve!/ Always let love take the lead!/ I may be a little naïve!” — but staggers around the melody, a victim of trying to feel too hard.

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