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Rihanna reveals new single, 'Russian Roulette'

October 20, 2009 | 11:47 am


After some initial hints and rumors the past few weeks, Rihanna has returned to the pop landscape with a brand-new single, "Russian Roulette." It's her first official release since her February incident with then-boyfriend Chris Brown and the first track from her forthcoming "Rated R," the Nov. 23 follow-up to 2007's "Good Girl Gone Bad."

Rihanna's recent, tragic history ensures there's more than a pop curiosity around the single, but she's also been one of the industry's fastest-rising stars. "Good Girl Gone Bad" spawned multiple hits, including the ubiquitous "Umbrella," and has sold 2.5 million copes in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.

From the initial few listens on "Russian Roulette," it's clear that Rihanna isn't going to play nice, nor does she appear to have any intention to shy from tough, violent subject matter. This is far from the typical ballad. It's an assertive, harsh and, at times, frightening single, coming to a close with a gunshot. A guitar streak opens the number, but the song doesn't explode into "Shut Up and Drive"-like exhilaration.

Instead, the song, co-written with Ne-Yo, strikes a more resolute tone. It's hard to imagine it blasting out of car windows or even controlling a club, but it's all attention-grabbing stuff, standing in stark -- emphasis on stark -- contrast to much of the current pop landscape. The smattering of piano keys could be a soundtrack to a horror film, and Rihanna's quivering pre-verse gasps immediately put the listener on alert.

The lyrics are vague enough to keep people guessing but hint at a situation one probably doesn't want to be in the middle of. "He says close your eyes, sometimes it helps," Rihanna sings with unshaken directness, adding, ominously, "and then I get a scary thought." The beats close in around her, and the strings quiver as if they're being played through gritted teeth, building in the end to something almost approaching a theme to a Bond film.

But make no mistake, although the song comes to a close with a final bang, Rihanna is the heroine here. "So just pull the trigger," she tosses off in the cut's final moments, all swagger and confidence. The narrative of the song -- and just who, exactly, is the shooter -- matters less than Rihanna's command performance. A midtempo song without overbearing production, the single belongs all to Rihanna, and she makes the best of it -- a bit icy, a tad fearless, with the vocal strength to keep the orchestral flourishes at bay.

Listen to the song here.

-- Todd Martens

Photo credit: Def Jam Records / Associated Press