Rihanna — “S.O.S.”

Released: 2.7.06

Peak: #1

Great pop upends our expectations. I didn’t expect much from Rihanna on the evidence of “Pon de Replay,” one of the era’s less juicy dancehall rips and the sort of inoffensively catchy hit you just know will be a mild nuisance by summer’s end. I definitely never expected that I’d want to hear the hook from “Tainted Love” again. Then again, I never considered how much of a digitized wallop that hook could pack if suitably refurbished, or that Rihanna would develop so quickly from goodtime island girl to princess of bad vibes.

“S.O.S.” has a slapdash production-line feel, which may be why Christina Milian turned the track down. (Sure wasn’t because she had so much better material on offer.) Its producer, the mostly unnecessary J.R. Rotem, would later perform a beefing up regimen on Imogen Heap (for Jason Derulo’s benefit) similar to what he did here for Soft Cell. And the lyrics (from Neil Bogart’s son “Kidd”) are essentially a I Love the ’80s in-joke pastiche — not just “I’m a put desire in your arms tonight,” but “I melt with you, ya got me head over heels/ Boy you keep me hanging on by the way you make me feel.” Hey, this thing practically writes itself!

But Rihanna breezes right through those limp lines as though they actually described her emotions. If her vocal only hints at how her flattened keen would later grate the slick surfaces off a melody, that commitment to the performance is what carries “S.O.S.” past its limitations. Wriggling within the grip of an undesired romantic obsession, Rihanna sure doesn’t sound like she’s signaling for help. She sounds pissed.

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  • By Iyaz — “Replay” « Useful Noise on September 13, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    […] was also behind the forced retro lope of “Beautiful Girls.” Rotem, after crafting a great Rihanna hit, had made his name by servicing scumbags like Rick Ross and Plies; he later lazily reworked Imogen […]

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