New Rihanna Album Anti finally drops
After three years of delays and teasers, Rihanna’s eighth studio album, Anti, has been finally released. Anti represents an intriguing change of form for Rihanna. It is less commercial than her previous albums; it was released overnight on Tidal much like Beyonce’s 2013 self-titled album. None of Rihanna’s recent singles are on Anti except “Work,” and overall, the album is less pop and has a more minimalist tone.
In a recent MTV interview Rihanna explained what she hoped to do in her new album: “I wanted songs that I could perform in 15 years; I wanted an album that I could perform in 15 years,” she said. “Not any songs that were burnt out. I find that when I get on stage now, I don’t want to perform a lot of my songs. They don’t feel like me. So I want to make songs that are timeless.”
Anti is not a complete departure from the Rihanna we know and love, however. At her best, Rihanna’s songs are brilliantly produced pieces of pop that showcase her distinct personality, whether it’s expressing bombastic pride, emotional fragility, or playful seduction. “Consideration,” featuring R&B singer SZA, kicks off the album with a dark, minimal beat and features Rihanna’s voice in her signature Caribbean styling. The way she says, “I got to do things my way, darling” in the chorus is very much in line with the bad girl image she’s portrayed over the years.
At her worst, however, her songs are repetitive, unimaginative, club bangers that are all too willing to fall back on being able to bill themselves as Rihanna songs rather than trying to stand as works on their own. Case in point: “Work,” featuring rapper/singer Drake, is one of those Rihanna songs whose chorus repeats the name of the song a thousand times over until it becomes completely meaningless. Drake’s verse in the song isn’t anything spectacular either; it sounds like the generic R&B songs he would have been singing at the start of his career rather than the distinctly moody songs he has been producing recently.
For the most part, though, Rihanna’s worst songs on this album are not bad in a loud and obnoxious way; instead, they are bad in the sense that it feels like slowly dying of a nosebleed: they are horribly boring and feel like they will never end. “Woo” features a noisy electronic beat that never changes; it is the same three dissonant notes playing over and over again, and becomes tiresome very quickly. Rihanna’s voice also has noisy filter on it, and doesn’t stand out much over the beat. Unfortunately, at 3:55 this is one of the longer songs on the album. “Needed Me,” produced by DJ Mustard, is Rihanna’s take down of a former lover. The minimalist beat in this song sounds like it needs a dark, moody, and unforgiving set of vocals and lyrics to make it work. Instead, Rihanna’s disinterested tone just makes the song as a whole sound watered down and uninteresting.
Most songs on the album thankfully do not fall into this category. They are enjoyable but noticeably flawed. “Kiss It Better” has a unique 80s-inspired instrumental featuring an electric guitar. The instrumental is interesting the first time you hear it, but lacks any sense of progression. It remains exactly the same throughout the course of the song. “Desperado” has the same problem. The galloping, spaghetti Western inspired beat and lyrics about a pair of loners running off together is fun at first, but doesn’t seem to change at all from start to finish and becomes stale by the end. “Same Ol’ Mistakes” is Rihanna’s cover of a Tame Impala song, “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” It’s a great song, but Rihanna’s version is exactly the same as the original song and adds nothing new.
Some songs just have no presence. “Yeah, I Said It,” a sex jam produced by Timbaland, seems a little hollow. Rihanna repeats the words “Yeah, I said it” like she’s actually said something shocking when in reality she hasn’t. “James Joint” is a short one minute interlude about getting high that is weirdly shoved in between two songs that would have flowed well into each other otherwise.
On this album, the best songs are the acoustic songs reminiscent of her performance on “FourFiveSeconds,” that truly let her show off her skills as a vocalist. This group includes “Never Ending,” “Love on the Brain,” “Higher,” and “Close To You.” As a reviewer, I may be a little biased because I’m a complete sucker for more acoustic retro-sounding songs, but these last four songs on Anti really seem to be the most fleshed out songs in terms of composition. Rihanna’s voice is beautiful and brimming with emotion, and the songs feature some very well-written lyrics. The opening verse of “Close to You” is an elegy for a dying relationship: “Nothing but a tear, that’s all for breakfast/Watching you pretend you’re unaffected.”
On “Higher,” Rihanna opens with “This whiskey got me feelin’ pretty/So pardon if I’m impolite.” As she begs her lover to be with her she croons, “And I know I could be more creative/And come up with poetic lines.” It is a heartbreakingly beautiful two-minute song whose only flaw is that it is not any longer.
These last four songs also form a coherent arc in which Rihanna falls in love again after heartbreak, becomes unsure about the future of the relationship, and eventually ends up falling apart with her lover again. It really leaves you wondering what the album might have been if the rest of songs had been more like this.
Tidal listeners had access to three additional songs: “Goodnight Gotham,” an atmospheric albeit repetitive interlude piece, “Pose,” which sounds like it’s trying too hard to be “Fresh off the Runway,” and “Sex With Me,” which has the playful flirtatious energy that “Yeah, I Said It” so desperately needs.
Anti seems like an album in a confused transition. In fact, it completely changes its tone halfway through from dark minimalist R&B to acoustic soul. Compared to past Rihanna albums, Anti may be more daring but simultaneously underwhelming. It seems to be exploring its options; it plays around with a couple of good ideas but doesn’t take too much time to develop any of them. More than anything, Anti leaves you wondering what direction Rihanna is planning to pursue in the future.