After one of the most confusing and frustrating releases of all time, Rihanna’s Anti album finally started its roll out to Tidal (uuugh!), Apple Music and eventually Spotify and physical stores at the end of January. Not with a bang like Beyoncé’s self-titled 2013 release, or even with an aggressive lead-up campaign of singles and appearances like its predecessors, but ultimately with a quiet and anti-climatic digital release onto an unpopular music platform service.
I won’t even get started on my hatred of Tidal -I think I’ll leave that for a separate, venomous post, but I feel like I have to express my disappointment in Rihanna’s approach to this album. Ever since FourFiveSeconds was released in January 2015, fans have been eagerly awaiting her album, only to be left in anticipation for another year while she continued to smoke and party the year away.
By the time Anti made it onto my iPhone two weeks ago, it was not what it needed to be after the delayed build up. Fans who are looking for another collection of club anthems like We Found Love and Only Girl (In the World), or even 2015’s trap-pop banger Bitch Better Have My Money will indeed be disappointed, especially because BBHMM didn’t make the final cut! But if you can get over the fact that Anti isn’t going to get you bobbing in the club, you can possibly appreciate the mellowed vibe the Bajan pop star and her team have created here.
As a singer, Rihanna is incredibly talented. Her vocals are unique and diverse enough to take her through any genre. Kiss It Better (which should definitely be the second single!) sees her tackle a soft-rock power ballad, full of soaring guitar solos and dreamy vocal filters. Then on lead single Work she sounds drunk, stoned, or possibly both as she slurs out the lyrics, her thick Bajan accent turned to the max. It may be her weakest lead single to date, But when heard in conjunction with the rest of the album, it fits in well.
Other highlights on the album include the DJ Mustard produced, ex-bashing Needed Me, where flickers of the bad gal Ri Ri can be found on lyrics like ‘Tryna fix your inner issues with a bad bitch, didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?’, and throwback track Love On The Brain, another example of Rihanna’s versatility.
Anti works best when listened to in its entirety. Songs like Higher and Yeah, I Said It for example aren’t deserving of a radio release, but have earned their place on the album, even if they feel a little bit like filler.
If it had been released twelve months ago, or branded as a side project or mix tape instead of a comeback album, I would have praised Anti as a brave new direction for the pop star. It probably wouldn’t have been so polarizing if people hadn’t been expecting a return to form for so long. Unfortunately that is a consequence of the poorly timed, badly marketed project. Ultimately the delay created doubt in the public’s minds and brought momentum to a halt, and Anti was doomed before it was even released.
Although the music is a far cry from what we are used to hearing from Rihanna, it fits her like a glove and as a whole it is probably one of her most cohesive albums. It’s the kind of album I want to hear while at the beach, sipping cocktails and contemplating life (unfortunately I don’t smoke weed, because I’m sure that’s how Ms. Fenty intended it to be enjoyed!). But in the long run people want the bad-ass, smack talking, pussy-popping princess of pop Rihanna, not the Anti-Rihanna, who has proven to be underwhelming and incredibly tardy.
Final Grade: ♥♥♥ (3/5)
Repeat: Kiss It Better, Needed Me, Pose and Sex With Me (the last two are bonus tracks and the closest to BBHMM-style bangers we get on Anti!)
Skip: James’ Joint, Goodnight Gotham and Same Ol’ Mistakes (good but too long! no song should be over 4.5 minutes long)