As far as pop songs go, Rihanna‘s “Russian Roulette,” the first from her upcoming album Rated R, lacks any kind of substantial bang. It lacks the kind of enthralling bridge, bombastic middle 8, or irresistible hook that tends to differentiate hits from shit. However, it’s clear that with this single, Rihanna’s not aiming to comfortably nestle herself in the elusive echelons of pop immortality.
Understated, slow-burning, and inconclusive, “Russian Roulette” is simply the smartest musical course of action for a pop singer whose troubled private life was (and continues to be) raked through coals of public scrutiny. Because if we got something along the lines of “Breakin’ Dishes”, the chorus would’ve railed, “That Rihanna! Setting a bad example for little girls with her glorification of domestic violence!” As a comeback single, a well-executed ballad makes the most sense. It keeps in tact the image of the pop singer as a busted-up doll, valiantly struggling to become whole again. But never quite achieving that goal until her fans and the world, to a larger extent, are ready for her to come of age.
And then there’s the actual idea of the game being played in the song’s title. If we were all self-important poets, we could fire up our cob pipes, pour ourselves snifters of brandy and talk about the loaded symbolism. That is, one of a woman who gambles with destructive life choices, including one that may! kill! her! Rihanna, don’t pull the trigger.
But otherwise, the tune’s harmless fun. Rihanna’s clearly done better and once we exhaust all potentially unfeministy ramifications of the single and convince ourselves, “Yes! This little girl is recovering from that big bad wolf who huffed, puffed, and blew away his one shot at happiness!”, public interest in Rihanna the Busted-Up Doll will subside. And then Rihanna the Preeminent Princess of Pop can rise again. And hopefully with something that actually sounds like a proper anthem.