“I got to do things my own way darling,” Rihanna sings on “Consideration,” the opening track to her highly anticipated eighth studio album, ANTI. Actually, to say the album was anticipated is understating just how exhausting the wait for the record really was. Plagued by constant setbacks and multiple shifts in sound, fans were left wondering if this album even existed, and if it would be worth the almost four-year wait.
Well, rejoice! The album does, in fact, exist, and has finally been released. ANTI is meant to be a turning point for Rihanna, pushing the star in a new artistic direction. Though whether said direction is the right one for her is what I’ll be talking about here.
Rihanna first began the album campaign over a year ago by releasing the Kanye West and Paul McCartney assisted track “FourFiveSeconds,” a folk number which proved to be a complete 180-degree career shift in terms of image and sound. After the single performed worse than expected, she followed-up with the controversially good “Bitch Better Have My Money,” a triumphant and aggressive statement that reminded the listener it was she who “called the shots.” She then released “American Oxygen,” a song that was practically dead on arrival. After the song’s release in March, Rihanna took a break. A long, nine month break.
When ANTI finally hit online in late January, not a single song released from the previous year was to be found on it. Instead, the album was filled with moody, subdued R&B material; truly the “anti-Rihanna” that the album’s title promised. With this sound comes an increased confidence and self-awareness. The global superstar has never sounded more sensual than on album highlight “Kiss It Better,” a song that evokes the R&B genre of the 90s. The track is a far more mature and family-friendly approach to the topic of sex than, say, her 2010 mega-hit “S&M.” As the album progresses, Rihanna displays her vocals like never before, with songs such as the whiskey-filled “Higher” and electronic “Needed Me.” These songs allow Rihanna to perfectly blend her unique style of pop and urban into a newer, fresher approach.
All the positives aside, this new approach doesn’t always equate to the gold promised at the end of ANTIdiaRY, an online promotional campaign for the album that was essentially created to stall the public while Rihanna finished recording the album. Though ANTI has no true missteps, its faults come in the stagnation of the record. The 16-track deluxe edition of the album clocks in at only 50 minutes, though it feels much longer.
Songs such as “Yeah, I Said It,” or the jarring “Woo,” allow the album to float by the listener, almost feeling cold to listen to. Also thrown in the mix is a truly random cover of indie rock band Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” The song, here titled “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” though a great version, is a verbatim remake of the 2015 original and adds nothing to the record. As the album concludes, listeners see a glimpse of the folk side hinted at by “FourFiveSeconds,” though at this point, these songs almost feel like they belong on a completely different album.
Although ANTI had a hard time getting off of the ground, it has finally arrived. Shown through an album cover displaying her as a child, and a personally written poem laid across the cover in braille, the record was an obvious attempt to reestablish Rihanna as a serious musician in a post-Adele society. This results in sounds that are darker and mysteriously personal lyrics. While the record has many gleaming moments, including the vocal-soaring “Love on the Brain,” ANTI places too much attention on displaying this new-found artistry in Rihanna, leaving one crucial part of this supposed reflective album out: herself.
3 out of 5 stars.
— Jake Johnson, Music Blogger