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11/21/2012

Rihanna 

‘Unapologetic’ 

Def Jam 

Let’s just get it out of the way: Yes, that’s Chris Brown on “Nobody’s Business.” Yes, the two of them swap lines like “You’ll always be my boy; I’ll always be your girl” and “Your love is infectious, let’s make out in this Lexus” — the latter of which is more disturbing than the former, because it’s both infantile and poorly written. As one might expect, Brown winds up holding Rihanna back: “Nobody’s Business” is arguably the weakest track on the entire album. Brown’s influence doesn’t, however, stop the rest of the album from actually being pretty good. Rihanna is a consummate professional, and it’s clear even from the title that this is meant to be her defining album. “Numb” and “Jump” are the best tracks on the album, but the entire thing’s lyrically daring and sonically complex. Rihanna continues to grow as an artist, if not a person. CV

 

HIV

Alicia Keys 

‘Girl on Fire’

RCA

Alicia Keys fans and Cubs fans have something in common: Hope, however fleeting, springs eternal. With every Alicia Keys album that comes out, fans think “Maybe this one will be as good as ‘Songs in A Minor.’ ” Then you see “featuring Nicki Minaj” on the “Girl on Fire” title track and — much like seeing that Scott Baker is your new No. 3 starter — you realize that this probably isn’t your year. “Girl on Fire” is, sadly, a tired rehash. Keys is older but no wiser, and her career stall can be directly traced to her songwriting, which has grown increasingly flat and trite. Now, with tracks like “Girl on Fire” and “New Day,” Keys makes an awkward, fumbling attempt to leave her R&B roots and venture into commercial pop. Along the way, she voids herself of her soulful sound and leaves the listener ho-humming from track to track. CV

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