ANTI is a rebellious blend of styles that leads the listener on a journey fraught with twists and turns.
ANTI is Rihanna’s eighth studio album, and having been in the works for the past three years, could very well be her most anxiously awaited. The first hint that ANTI might be leading us in a new and exciting direction was the news that Rihanna’s three singles from last year, ‘BBHMM,’ ‘FourFiveSeconds’ recorded with Paul McCartney, and ‘American Oxygen,’ had not made the album’s final cut.
With a wide variety of sounds and influences, ANTI is a beautifully balanced blend of old and new. Showcasing Rhianna’s ability to switch effortlessly between genres, it is her singularly strong and evocative voice that is the cherry on top of an atmospheric and explorational album.
‘Consideration’ is a punchy beginning to the album, with the assertive lyrics “do things my own way darling” delivered in her native Barbadian accent. After a recent label shift from Def Jam to Roc Nation, Rihanna is in the prime position to deliver the line “Let me cover your s*** in glitter, I will make it gold,” and with an opener like ‘Consideration’, I don’t doubt her at all. It’s interesting that Rihanna features the short 1 minute track ‘James Joint’ when other recent successful singles like ‘FourFiveSeconds’ did not make the final cut of ANTI. The song itself is a blast to the past with a gentle 70s Wonder sound that while not pertaining to everyone’s taste, is reminiscent of the harmonious overdubbed voices in The Beatles’ ‘Because’. ‘Kiss It better’ is a slower, R&B style ballad that will launch you back to the nineties with its echoing electric guitar harmonies and steady synth beats. For me, this track is a highlight, perfect for the night’s end.
The first single on the album, ‘Work’, has already got people listening. Currently at number 13 in the UK singles chart, it’s a catchy collab that will have you bobbing your head along to its rising synth bassline and electro beats. While the hook is a little incessant at times (the line “Work work work work work” features thirteen times throughout the track), the light blend of vocals from Rihanna and Drake from the third verse in particular work smoothly together. Now that you’re alive and dancing, Rihanna decides to mix it up, ‘Desperado’s runaway intro beckoning you towards a track with western chords and intense shuddering drums. I love the strong new direction ANTI takes here, with the track’s raw rock and roll lyrics, “If you want, we could be runaways, running from.”
‘Woo’ is a plunge into Rhianna’s darker side, with jarring atonal chords and a spiky attitude. “I bet she could never make you cry, cause the scars on your heart are still mine.” Heartless and electric, ‘Woo’ strikes you back down to earth and leaves you quaking as Rihanna jibes, “I don’t even really love you” “I don’t even really care about you no more.” The attitude doesn’t end there either, ‘Needed Me’ dripping with soft shimmery sounds and sarcasm. “Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage? F*** ya white horse and ya carriage.”
Reminding you of all those hazy rooms and late night comedowns, ‘Yeah I Said It’ flaunts Rihanna’s new sound, and it sounds…pretty good. Oh, and then there’s that Tame Impala cover. The original song “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” came out less than a year ago, and while I’d be rather flattered if I had a song on Rihanna’s album regardless, she doesn’t seem to add much more than another layer of smooth vocals to the 2015 track.
Feeling much more at ease is ‘Never Ending,’ a much softer song with pretty melodies and backing “ooo”s, lead by soft acoustic guitar. Another new sound and yet another genre that Rihanna can obviously command. ‘Love on the Brain” feels a little out of place in the lineup, despite its good old-fashioned 50s festive sound. While this track demonstrates again just how many vocal styles Rhianna can juggle pleasantly in one track, it’s could easily be mistaken for a Christmassy hit that hit too late. Singing her heart out in ‘Higher,’ Sia’s punchy high notes from her latest release This Is Acting are echoed in style. The track is an unusual, lighter note to the album that stands out among the listing.
ANTI‘s final track is one of the stars of the album. ‘Close To You’ is slow and beautiful, rather something of a callback to the old Rihanna. Proving she can easily rival Beyonce in sweetness of voice, this song pulls at the heartstrings just as ‘Stay’ did in 2012. My only criticism comes of the corny synthetic strings that close the track – maybe someone should drop her a helpful hint that good old-fashioned instruments do still exist.
I couldn’t have asked for more from Rihanna, her long-awaited album drop proving to be the new centrepiece of conversation everywhere.
ANTI is out now via Roc Nation.