Review Summary: The clamor of the album's botched release is oddly fitting.
I’m an unabashed devotee of pop music. I think there’s so much to love about that perfect pop song that just comes together effortlessly and everything fits: the verse entices, the bridge excites, the hook soars. And what better artist to eschew pop perfection than Rihanna, who up until now has been nothing short of a singles powerhouse? Like the best pop stars before her, she has effortlessly moved with the times, changing her style and her sound to stay relevant. Rihanna, who has been consistently reliable as a hit factory, has dropped her most inconsistent record, and what it lacks in obvious hooks or radio-ready structure, it makes up for in intrigue and emotion.
’s opening third-or-so, Rihanna seems to be pretty disinterested in love or pleasing anyone other than herself: think “B**** Better Have My Money,” but with more imagination and less thunder. The album starts with the brooding, SZA-assisted “Consideration,” where Rihanna proclaims “I got to do things my own way darling,” and that’s sort of a rallying cry for the rest of the album - she’s doing things her own way, the off-kilter, defiant, stoner way. The demanding “Kiss it Better” is the closest the album gets to a radio-friendly sound, and it wouldn’t be out of place on Loud
, but that’s as conventional as ANTI
gets. “Work” is mostly unintelligible, which is a shame, because it’s production is pretty addictive with it’s hazy, lazy synths and Caribbean hues.
moves into darker territory with “Desperado,” which sounds suspiciously like Banks’ “Waiting Game.” If gallows-pop is a thing, this is it: the synths are low and rough as Rihanna considers escaping somewhere with someone just because she doesn’t “want to be alone.” “Woo” has the potential to be the most hated track on the album, but there’s something about the ugly, discordant screeches and obnoxious autotune that’s intoxicating, even if it’s far from fun. The longest track here, “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” is a Tame Impala cover that trudges along until the song radically shifts into a new key and a lighter, more distant autotuned delivery. I was reminded of the random children’s choir insert in Kanye West’s “On Sight,” which is also a testament to how splitting up a song like that can be absolutely exhilarating.
The final third of ANTI
is a slew of remarkably good ballads, especially “Higher,” which pulls a “FourFiveSeconds” and puts Rihanna’s vocals front and center. Rihanna is a capable vocalist, but she’s far from exceptional, which gives those afore-mentioned songs their power. Listening to someone really push like is enthralling, and it’s too bad “Higher” is only two minutes. Actually, this whole section of ballads is an unusually good showcase for Rihanna’s voice. I’ll be the first to say I’m usually bored by Rihanna’s balladry, but here, it’s one of the best surprises of ANTI
: that Rihanna is really holding her own.
will undoubtedly be hailed as one of Rihanna’s most personal and revealing albums, particularly because of its tender final tracks. I’m not sure ANTI
actually brings us much closer to who Rihanna is - I think her most emotionally transparent work, music-wise, came and went with Rated R
- but, really, who cares? I’m not that interested in “authenticity” in pop music. I’m bored by questions of Rihanna the Artist vs. Rihanna™ the Team. Rihanna took a long time between Unapologetic
to establish herself as an icon, and she’s the perfect artist to take pop to somewhere dark and weird and uncomfortable. Unapologetic
is actually a much more fitting title for this album than the lackluster one it adorns. If ANTI
is a bit of an anticlimax from all the buildup, it’s at least a brave one.