Short review: "Work" by Rihanna is rubbish. In other news: I don't understand modern music’s appeal.
I understand where this song is appropriate and it is of course not aimed at a 29 year old guitar loving white male who has played more pub gigs than he has been to clubs. I’m clearly not Rihanna’s target audience. But that’s not to say I couldn’t like Rihanna given a more favourable context.
Last year, I heard one of the oddest combinations of music I have ever encountered in "FourFiveSeconds". What I was left with was a modern pop classic which would sit comfortably amidst a playlist of motown and acoustic rock classics during a drinking session at a friend’s house. Its stripped back yet anthemic feel made it a special sound to hear on the radio for the fourfivemonths it maintained radio play. Don’t misconstrue that my like of this track is down to an obligatory respect due to the appearance of a Beatle. Had I not seen the video I would not have known that Paul McCartney was even involved. He doesn't sing after all.
Regardless of this, the ever so tasty filling in this superstar sandwich is one Rihanna. She has never convinced me that she is a standout singer and - in my view - comparatively falls short to her pop/R&B peers (see: Beyoncé) in singing prowess and presence. But in "FourFiveSeconds" she sounds exasperated, raw and soulful. Her cut on this track astounds me and on reflection this could have marked a new direction for her. Considering she’s already done straight pop, dance, club and hip-hop styles, maybe a modern soul album wasn’t out of the question. Evidently she chose not to, releasing the aforementioned atrocity.
Those crisp and raw vocals I mentioned are replaced with gibberish. I can hear her leaning on her Caribbean dialect, which is something she’s done very little of since "Pon De Replay" in 2005. Not a bad thing. But her pronunciation is just awful. It barely sounds like she is saying work, dirt, learn etc. Instead the listener is subjected to “der der der der der der” and “wah wah wah wah wah wah”. “Wah wah” makes me smile.
(Growing up, my only relatives who had any form of satellite or cable television were my grandparents. So the only place I could watch music channels, as teenagers of the nineties and noughties so often did, was when I visited them. This subjected Grandad to the various angsty post-grunge, nu-metal and alternative sounds occupying Kerrang! and MTV2.)
Anyway, he would often remark, 'what is this wah wah you're listening to?' ..no doubt a phrase he also used for my mum’s taste of music in the seventies. It is a family saying that bad music, often modern music, is recognised as 'wah wah' and in turn the phrase is used by someone who is out of touch with the music of the time.
Well. Now it's me. I’m bordering 30 and am finding more and more that I am losing touch with popular music. I’m not connected to "Work" or most other Rihanna songs in any way. However, I should be able to review this song with proper academic critique. My musical education forces me to overanalyse everything I hear, which combined with my own personal biases, make me understand why I like what I like and give me more specific and technical words to say when I don’t like something. Maybe dealing with the loss of a loved one is giving me something more important to grapple with than my relationship with modern music. But regardless, plain and simple, "Work" is a load of wah wah. And I think my Grandad would have agreed.