Where Beyoncé was the supposed exposé of Beyoncé as a true artist, Anti is Rihanna’s attempt at the same thing. The main difference is it’s not as filth filled as the Queen’s, instead it’s a dancehall, pop/r&b infusion with some of Rihanna’s most impressive vocals to date. We’ve been waiting for years for this album and I won’t sugar coat it, a lot of fans will be distraught at the departure from her previous chart friendly sound. It’s an album without a dance floor smash, an album with a dark and brooding backdrop, an album that at times feels dispassionate when it should be overflowing with emotion.
Opener ‘Consideration’ deals with Rihanna’s rejection of her record label’s desires, her bajan accent snapping “I got to do things my own way darling” and “Let me cover your shit in glitter / I can make it gold”. It’s a solid start to Anti, reminiscent of old skool Fugee beats and featuring a pleasant turn from SZA. It’s followed up by the 1:12 filler ‘James Joint’ where Ri sings about wanting to be smoking weed whenever she breathes and it’s moments like this where she loses the plot and you feel a little embarrassed by this try hard attitude. It’s not the only awkward track on Anti. Lead single ‘Work’ (feat Drake) is ridiculous, annoying, uninspired drivel and could easily win the crown for the worst track of Rihanna’s career. Preceded in the charts by the amazing ‘Fourfiveseconds’, ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ and ‘American Oxygen’ (none of which made it onto the album), this move makes you wonder if Rihanna is really ready to make her own marketing decisions. Then there’s ‘Woo’, a melody-less, inaudible piece of nonsense and even now I’m not sure what it’s about.
Thankfully, not all is lost. Rihanna boosts her quality score with some incredible musical moves. The haunting ‘oh oh oh’ and rumbling synth of ‘Desperado’ are heady and the full 6:37 of ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’ are worth every second as Rihanna sings atop incredibly well executed vocal layers and a dirty synth arrangement. It’s ‘Kiss It Better’ and ‘Love On the Brain’ that shine the brightest though. The former is a mid tempo late 80s inspired R&B triumph, with a stunning chorus and catchy lyricism. Rihanna’s vocals standout, sounding truly authentic for the first time on Anti as she demands “I’ve been waiting up all night / baby tell me what’s wrong / gonna make it right / make it all night long / baby fuck your pride”. ‘Love On the Brain’ though, now there’s a song. It’s simple, it’s successfully retro with a swooning 50s production and Rihanna’s sounds the best she’s every sounded. There are echoes of Amy Winehouse Back to Black here, Ri’s vocal acrobatics from growls to falsetto brimming with soul. It’s this late stage of the album where Ri comes to life vocally, LOTB is followed by ‘Higher’, a 70s sampling, stripped vocal marvel where Rihanna bellows, “You take me higher / higher than I’ve ever been babe”. Her voice cracks as it strains against the higher notes demanded by the arrangement, but it feels more passionate because of this.
Anti isn’t Rihanna’s greatest musical success and I doubt it will be commercially either. It’s the most involved she’s every been, writing credits throughout the entire record. It doesn’t showcase a talent for lyricism, not like some of her counterparts and where she is clearly having a strong influence it seems to be when there’s some reference to smoking a joint. Those moments feel contrived and unnecessary. Thankfully, she pulls it back with some incredible songs, some of which showcase a remarkably emotive voice that no one could have guessed was in there. Perhaps as this is her first turn as songwriter the weaker moments can be forgiven and there’s much more to come. For now though, it’s a decent collection and a huge improvement on her last , mediocre, album Unapologetic.