What to do with a problem like Rihanna? The once carefree Bajan pop princess has steadily become a more battle hardened end product with each passing album release. Three years after the release of her last album Unapologetic (the longest gap between any of her albums) Rihanna has finally followed up with album number eight Anti. Each record following her spritely debut Music Of The Sun in 2006 has featured a growing infused level of grit and maturity that in essence has led to Rihanna becoming a vocal superpower in the music community. Her trademark commanding vocal style has followed her throughout her career. Some will say her voice is an acquired taste, but you can’t deny its uniqueness and commercial attractiveness.
Despite the three year album exile, three singles have been released from Rhianna in that time span including the excellent, un-ironic patriotic tale of “American Oxygen” and the raw, acoustic “FourFiveSeconds”. There was also her soundtrack album to the animated movie Home in which she also starred. Then came the launch of Tidal, the music streaming service set up by music’s metaphorical round table; the who’s who of the industry’s elite. Rihanna herself is a stakeholder in the service, and it’s this service that she chose to release Anti in its entirety for free.
Now comes the problem..
For artists like Rihanna who have been, saw and conquered, what is left for her to achieve and more importantly which direction does she want her career to progress now that she seemingly has total control over her destiny? The lead up to Anti’s release caused widespread anticipation, fans and critics alike wondered what the 27 year old could produce with the lengthy delay.
Anti unfolds with “Consideration” and if this track was used as a measure of what’s to come then it falls short, it’s a distinctly average R&B affair. Detailing Rihanna’s trials and tribulations in her career, the singer fires off power statements such as “Let me cover your shit in glitter, I can make it gold” and “I got to do things my own way darling, you should just let me”, demanding to be taken seriously as an artist. Rihanna actually deserves credit for her delivery as it’s absolutely stellar here. The problem is like so often in her career she is again let down by the music itself. It’s so unnecessarily dull and adds very little in terms of the song’s overall dynamic. Highly rated up and coming R&B artist SZA lends a hand on a verse here too and it works well alongside Rihanna’s confident delivery. What follows is the instantly forgettable “James Joint” which is about (you guessed it) smoking weed and “Kiss It Better.” This is where Anti finally shows some spine, albeit when the lyrical content is the polar opposite. The track sounds far more complete than the first two tracks on the album; sitting somewhere between Tinashe’s “Pretend” and the slower side of Beyonce’s self-titled.
“Work” comes next and this brings the album’s first ‘true’ pop chorus. The song has a heavy reggae influence and an incredibly lusty undertone created by the effortless chemistry between Rihanna and collaborator Drake. Overall it’s a solid track which is followed by another in the trip-hoppy “Desperado,” the metaphorical decision to follow a lover who’s on the run or stay behind. I must say after my first few plays of Anti this was the one I consistently came back to first. This is where Rihanna should have smashed it out the park but she strikes out on the next few offerings and the early momentum set by the trio of great tracks is lost. It’s actually quite frustrating because it can only be considered as an opportunity lost. Anti doesn’t really find its feet again until “Same Ol’ Mistakes” which is actually a cover of Tame Impala’s Currents closer “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” It’s an accomplished effort and really does show Rihanna’s ability to adapt to any environment.
“Never Ending” is a slow burner but it does get you at the end when the drums fire in to join the plucked acoustic guitar melody. UK artist Dido is actually credited on the song’s list of writers and you can definitely hear resemblances between this and Dido’s 1999 hit “Thank You.” Anti’s highlight comes in the form of “Love On The Brain,” a kind of playful doo-wop reminiscent of artists such as Amy Winehouse and Etta James. Lyrics such as “It beats me black and blue but it fucks me so good…I can’t get enough” also loosely reference the singer’s 2009 assault at the hands of horrendous ball sack Chris Brown. The song is cool as shit to be perfectly honest, made all the better because we’ve rarely seen this side of Rihanna in terms of her singing style. It’s a long way away from her trademark Caribbean infused drawl and it just works so well.
Anti is definitely not the most accessible release of her career and the question is if it will stand the test of time when looked in a decade’s time. There are some unforgettable moments strewn through the album, but not quite enough to expose too many cracks in the Anti’s overall decent production and delivery. There is enough here to enjoy regardless of fan standpoint on Rihanna’s music and Anti has just enough meat on its bones to be worth the wait. Rihanna sounds as strong as I’ve heard her and there are many glorious moments that rival arguably her best work since “Diamonds” and “Umbrella”.
Freelance writer still stuck in the 90’s.
Favourite albums; Young Americans, Hours, Out From The Vein, In Utero.