”After Strange Clouds, I’ma drop my rock album,” Atlanta rapper B.o.B proclaims on ”Ray Bands,” his sophomore outing’s ominously funky second track. But dude’s already no stranger to Marshall stacks: He shreds on the guitar; scored a smash 2010 duet, ”Airplanes,” with Paramore singer Hayley Williams; and stocks his latest with enough stadium shout-alongs to make Bon Jovi jealous. The rapper born Bobby Ray Simmons can leave his third-album aspirations at the door — Strange Clouds is already his Slippery When Wet.
Or maybe it’s his Teenage Dream. The disc, stacked with guests from Taylor Swift and Ryan Tedder to Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown, acts as a sort of State of the Union for the Republic of Mainstream Radio-stan. Its mélange of mixtape rap, dance-pop bounce, and big guitars culls from the strengths of his platinum peers: The chorus on ”So Good” nicks from a former collaborator, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, while ”Both of Us” toggles Swift’s Americana-dream croon with über-producer Dr. Luke’s stuttering electro fuzz.
Though Clouds occasionally overstretches (see the eye-rolling high school yearbook fodder ”Just a Sign”), B.o.B’s confidence serves him well; the fact that he can funnel all that pop froth and still go toe-to-toe with scene-stealer Minaj on the blippy ”Out of My Mind” is impressive testament to his infectious, unflappable cool. The guy knows how to hang in nearly every sonic situation, and master it — just like a real rock star. A-