There’s no slowing down for Rihanna. Following the early 2016 release of her eighth studio album ANTI (which has already racked up two Top 10 hits), as well as a successful run with Calvin Harris on tamed party anthem “This Is What You Came For”, the R&B/pop artist now collaborates for a second time with Sia for “Sledgehammer“, a rousing ballad that also serves as a soundtrack contribution for the upcoming sci-fi film Star Trek Beyond.
“Sledgehammer” showcases a bit of the vulnerability missing from Rihanna’s recent projects. Similar to their previous single release “Diamonds”, Sia’s deep and personal songwriting allows the “Umbrella” songstress to give an emotive vocal performance over stirring production that builds into an anthem of a chorus. However, while the delicate touch and effective progression of the new release should be commended, the song also comes off as a subpar Sia impression, right down to the vocal delivery structure.
Playing up the drama and the theatrics, Rihanna and Sia tell the difficult story of overcoming the hurt that always comes with a unsuspecting break up. “I hit a wall, I never felt so low, so low, like a waterfall, my tears dropped to the floor, they left a swimming pool of salted crimes, crimes, ooh what could I do to change your mind?,” she sings during the revealing opening, paving the way for an opportunity to grow stronger from the heartache, to rise up from the ashes of destroyed love.
The vocal similarities are noticeable and practically inescapable on the recently released track, they will come with a heavy heap of praise or skepticism. It’s true, Rihanna vocals have never sounded stronger, or more controlled, than they do on “Sledgehammer“, but do they deserve the same attention when they are simply an imitation of another artist? Sia’s essence is all over the release, she could have released the song with the same artistic success.
The soundtrack contribution hits all the right buttons though. From the delicate piano keys on the intro to a resonating message of perseverance, “Sledgehammer” is the perfect movie companion, something you’d expect to play across the end credits. Is it Rihanna’s most powerful or memorable offering to date? Not really. But it’s an example of the artist’s surprising growth and showcases her impressive staying power and ability to adapt to her musical surroundings.