Review Summary: Like a brand new person.Anti
really shouldn't have been this good. Its since deleted singles, "American Oxygen" and "Bitch Better Have My Money", were confused atrocities, unable to form any cohesive vision for Rihanna. More than that, they were bad songs, the former business as usual while the latter sounded an unsatisfying and forced attempt for the singer to create an ubiquitous 'banger'. Although some potential lay in "FourFiveSeconds", a competent enough pop tune that quickly enough turned repetitive and grating, it worked to form a dire prospective for Rihanna's latest, mired in trends and a desperate catch-all attitude. Not that any of her previous records were any better for solidifying a solid identity; however, it is worth considering what these singles were trying to convey. Was Rihanna suddenly a rockist nostalgic, eager to claim Paul McCartney and an acoustic guitar as legitimacy? Was she now eager to take on trap and keep the cash rolling in? Or, was she the same old person, making the same mistakes? Even on Anti
's actual lead single, "Work", it seemed as if things could go either way. Buoyed by a middling Drake feature and a flow that copped equal parts Future and Young Thug, what could be mistaken for minimalism amounted to a promising yet vague attempt for Rihanna to redefine herself as subtle or subversive. Conversely, Anti
, which dropped just a day later amid a botched rollout campaign from Tidal and Samsung, is everything that "Work" hinted at. It's subtle, it's oblique, and it's more than a little self-aware; as a result, it's also sort of brilliant.
marks a significant shift away from the mainstream for Rihanna. Absent of any clear or obvious single, she now has more room to construct herself as an artsy individual. Opener "Consideration", the closest the album gets to the anthemic Rihanna of old, strips away any and all bombast, and subsequently builds the track back up with airy production and a SZA feature. It's unconventional and all the better for it, willing to challenge the notion of what Rihanna is supposedly capable of by being an impromptu shift away from obviousness. Its most immediate point of reference, Beyonc√©
, is accurate if not slightly off-base, unable to justify itself as much more than an afront to expectations that have dogged the Barbadian popstar's career. Strip away the marketing and superficial genre tags, and Anti
is probably still a bit of a mess; regardless, it's Rihanna's mess, and nobody else can lay claim to it. True to that vision, it's the sort of album that takes songs like "Kiss it Better", a schmaltzy power ballad with a schmaltzy Nuno Bettencourt guitar part, and turns it into a robust album cut. It's the sort of album that lets "Work", its weakest and most obvious song, speak for it as its lead single. It's fearless to pronounce the old Rihanna gone whilst still dangling all her old hallmarks just shy over the masses, as in "Woo". In a rather lackadaisical rendering of Tame Impala's "New Person, Same Old Mistakes", Rihanna croons, 'Feel like a brand new person / I finally know what it's like.
' After 7 painful years of servicing commercial interests, Rihanna sounds like a brand new person; nuanced, dynamic, and focused, Anti
is Rihanna stripping herself of commercial obligations, finally taking flight.