Rihanna is clearly at the point in her career where she doesn’t really care about conventions or adhering to anyone’s expectations. Her last album Unapologetic was released in 2012 and the star, known for releasing an album pretty much every year, has made her fans wait four years for a follow-up. Most of 2015 was spent trolling her fans with the release of Kanye West and Sir Paul McCartney collaboration Four Five Seconds and follow-up single Bitch Better Have My Money. Another track, American Oxygen, did the rounds too but after Anti’s surprise release last night it was revealed that none of the tracks made the record.
The release strategy for Anti has been as bizarre as it has intriguing. The album was expected originally in 2014 and was constantly reported to be ‘coming out soon’ throughout 2015. Towards the end of 2015 Rihanna announced the Anti tour and released the artwork for the album but failed to confirm any release information around the album. Yesterday the singer dropped her new track Work featuring Drake, dividing the opinions of both her fans and critics. Seemingly not caring to actually bother to enunciate any of the words in the song, Work has a laid-back sun-drenched vibe that is unmistakeably Rihanna but also almost completely unintelligible.
Off the back of that single, Anti was ‘accidentally’ leaked on Tidal last night. It was soon removed allowing Rihanna to announce it’s official release as a free stream and download. Rumour has it that the ‘free’ release is limited as a deluxe paid for version will be arriving on iTunes tomorrow. Despite its messy arrival, all eyes are on Anti but can it live up to the (mostly) solid track record Rihanna has when it comes to her album releases?
From the opening beats of Consideration featuring SZA it’s clear that Anti isn’t going to be your typical Rihanna record. The beats are harder, the sound rawer and the vocals seeing Rihanna embracing different ways of using her distinctive voice. After a listen through, it’s clear that Anti isn’t a particularly cohesive project with Rihanna choosing to work with a variety of collaborators for a surprisingly low-key affair. There are no obvious hits across the 13 tracks but that isn’t to say the album isn’t worth listening to.
The mellow vibe of James Joint, a track that is more of an interlude than an actual song, pushes the R&B boundaries with an almost Mariah Carey-esque musical feel. Lyrically the song is about Rihanna wanting to smoke weed so the Carey comparisons end pretty quickly. Anti is clearly a body of experimentation from Rihanna with the hard Woo featuring a variety of vocal effects and Tame Impala cover Same Ol’ Mistakes using the singer’s voice as part of the melody, much like the original track did.
Where Anti gets really interesting is when the production is stripped back. Never Ending samples Dido’s Thank You and continues the acoustic vibe Rihanna started on Four Five Seconds. Album closer Close to You is a refreshingly simple track in the vein of previous hit Stay that features Rihanna’s best vocal on the record and could easily be the next single from the collection. Elsewhere Desperado features a jerky vocal and a deep beat, Needed Me marries Rihanna’s vocals with a pulsing electro-beat, and the expletive-leaden 90s R&B feel of Kiss it Better takes some inspiration from Prince using it to great effect.
The most effective track on Anti is the throwback R&B of Love on the Brain. It sounds completely unlike a Rihanna song and at times her voice is barely recognisable. The departure in sound actually really suits her and gives you an idea of what kind of artist Rihanna could be if she moved on from the more underground vibes she’s chosen for much of the album and dropped the gangster posturing.
Aside from Work, the biggest misstep on the record is Higher. The two minute track aims for raw and honest but Rihanna’s vocal is just a little too painful to listen to. It isn’t pleasant on the ears as she screeches to reach the notes. It’s the kind of vocal you give during drunken karaoke and falsely recollect as your big Mariah moment.
In all honesty Anti is a much better record that I was expecting it to be. Is it going to be remembered as one of Rihanna’s best albums? Probably not. What it will be remembered for is being the point in Rihanna’s career where she experienced some true creative freedom. I miss the big bangers that Rihanna usually delivers but for a one-off Anti provides an interesting and intriguing listen. It’s a shame she didn’t stick Bitch Better Have My Money on there though.
Track listing: 1. Consideration feat SZA 2. James Joint 3. Kiss It Better 4. Work 5. Desperado 6. Woo 7. Needed Me 8. Yeah, I Said It 9. Same Ol’ Mistakes 10. Never Ending 11. Love on the Brain 12. Higher 13. Close to You Record Company: Def Jam Release Date: 27th January 2016