This week the Throwback Thursday spotlight is on Rihanna.
The icy R&B slow-jam is one of the finest cuts from Rih's mostly brilliant 5th studio album. The track glistens and crashes for almost 5 of the sexiest minutes the "Umbrella" star has ever delivered. Beginning with a sparse, atmospheric instrumental, Rihanna purrs seductively to a potential lover, inviting him to undress with her - all she wants to see him in is just skin. The track builds to a crescendo with its outstanding bridge ("No heels / No skirt / No shirt / All I'm in is just skin") that is guaranteed to make you move like a legitimate sex worker.
Perhaps what's most impressive about the song is how well it showcases Rihanna's very specific vocal prowess. Maximising her sex appeal and minimising the ad-libs, Rih sounds far better in her lower register and "Skin" is performed almost entirely within Rihanna's range (a feat not all of her tracks can boast.)
"Skin" plays on a sound that has become extraordinarily popular in the 5 years since its release. Artists like The Weeknd have utilised the minimalist, beat driven R&B for some of the most left-of-center urban releases this decade, and "Skin" is a rare example of Rihanna setting a trend rather than following one. Similarly, with production from the largely unknown Soundz (born Kenneth C. Coby), it's no wonder that endeavours like Ciara's eponymous 5th record sound so similar to "Skin" with Coby at the production helm.
Performed only once, on Rihanna's 98 date 'Loud Tour', the live rendition of "Skin" lived up to the risqué appeal the starlet oozed on the track itself. The choreography began simply but effectively and built up to Rih giving one lucky young man from the lap-dance of his life before disappearing with the audience participant into the bowels of the stage.
Rihanna's albums often suffer from the same problem as most mainstream pop records right now, which is an over-abundance of potential singles and not enough strong album material - songs that might not work on radio but are outstanding in their own right. "Skin" is one of the only examples of a song that wouldn't have worked as a single at the time of release (now, on the other hand, this would be all over the Hot 100 like a rash) but that earned its place on the LP simply by being an excellent song.