Amerie’s ‘In Love & War’ Sets Benchmark For Rihanna’s ‘Rated R’

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And it’s not just because their album titles vaguely rhyme either. But Amerie’s In Love & War is one of the more unexpectedly delightful entries in hip-pop this year. It also builds substantially on her reputation as “that fashionable lark who chirped that catchy jingle some years ago.” In fact with Rihanna’s Rated R out soon, Amerie’s strategic timing provides ample opportunity for those put off by the drama swirling around Rihanna to find a substitute who isn’t as hyperbolic as Beyoncé. Four albums in and In Love & War may just be the beginning of her creative crest.

While Rihanna’s “Russian Roulette” makes sense as a comeback in relation to her own personal narrative, all of that stops mattering when the competition looks, sings, and dances like Amerie, with something as infectious as “Why R U” by way of a lead single off a similarly non-debut album campaign. Side-by-side, one single outshines the other, and it becomes a rare moment in pop where everything stops being about tabloid talk and approaches discussion about the music itself. In this sense, all the glossy apocalyptic teasers couldn’t undercut a solid single.

Then there’s another problem. Rihanna and her team are really running with this Busted-Up Doll motif, focusing her album campaign in the too-public brutality she suffered earlier this year. And if the urban pop landscape was looking sparse, she’d be clear for lift-off. But with Amerie quickly emerging as a critical favorite, she’s gaining considerable ground with those who listen to pop music not for “the story,” but for “the beat.” Which is most people with ears. And with each passing day, more people are wearying of pop stars who disingenuously peddle a pop record as an overwrought thinkpiece/artistic statement. This means that while “Russian Roulette” works as a gimmicky device to spur buzz, what will probably help make Rated R viable in the long-run is the type of moxie that’s managed to single Amerie out from the flock of other aspiring popstrels, while keeping her indistinct enough to blend in with Top 40′s usual suspects.

In Love & War meddles with a few novelties (the whole piano-on-hip-hop beat for one), but it never exhausts any of them to the point of gimmickry. It’s this balance that Rihanna needs to achieve, so Rated R doesn’t end up a reductive pile of shock and awe.