We’re all quite familiar with Unapologetic Rihanna. Bad Gal RiRi. The Rihanna who makes ordinary sidewalks her catwalk in anything from silk, slip dresses to outrageous, sometimes translucent, gowns. The girl unafraid to clap back at anyone who has a problem. Who we didn’t know was this Rihanna, ANTI Rihanna.
After months of false alarms and eye-rolling anticipation, Rihanna has blessed her navy with her eighth studio album, her first in more than three years since her 2012 Unapologetic. And with all the waiting and false-starts, the only thing running through our minds was: this has to be good. This better be the album that reignites our faith in the navy and has us going, Yes, f***ing yes. And the truth is, it’s good, just not in the way we expected.
If you’ve really been a Rihanna fan from “Pon de Replay” to “Umbrella” all the way up to “BBHMM,” this might not have been exactly what you were expecting. ANTI isn’t chock full of upbeat radio hits, and with the exclusion of maybe two songs, it isn’t the turn up. Sure, Rihanna’s always taken fans on a musical journey through her albums. We’ve seen the carefree nineteen-year-old playing on the beach and the unraveling of her public relationship during her darker, “Russian Roulette” days. And while most have enjoyed the natural progression from carefree to a more matured and multi-dimensional artist, her latest attitude—the I’ll do what I want, rebellion from all things tamed, soft, and cute—seemed like the most appropriate, final chapter. Even when the ANTI cover art was revealed, the miniature Rih masked by a crown and holding a balloon suggested all hell would break loose with tracks screaming independence and bad-assness.
Here, Rihanna is still a bad ass (as if that would ever change), but she’s not exuding the girl from Instagram, twerking on yachts or gliding through mansions in lace lingerie. She’s not talking about pouring it up or plotting to get her money back. “B***h Better Have My Money” isn’t even on the album (“FourFiveSeconds” and “American Oxygen” are also noticeably absent). It’s by far one of her most advanced albums in terms of vocals and sounds, though. One minute she’s getting lost in neo-soul flows with SZA in “Consideration,” the next she’s giving major pipes over a wave of an orchestra on “Love on the Brain.” It’s a roller coaster of experimentation with high and low notes, country, guitar strings and retro beats. This album captures the progression after what we thought would be the last – what happens after the fur and Swarovski crystals come off and she’s somewhere on a secluded island with maybe a studio, a strong drink, and one rolled. On ANTI, our favorite bad gal is laid back, but commanding; provocative, yet mysterious. And the same ol’ Rihanna is still there; you just have to dig through the ballads, because it’s good. Really good.
“Consideration” (feat. SZA): “I got to do things my own way, darling.” One of the first lines from the introduction track is basically the motto here. As one of the only features, Rihanna recruits SZA and, based on what we heard, it was a smart selection. The two compliment each other well as they exchange vocals about cutting ties. This is the first of many tracks where Rih brings her Bajan accent to the forefront, going in and out of singing and spitting a rapper’s flow. The single is made whole by fusing an eerie, down-tempo tune with a retro beat, two sounds that stay true to SZA’s alt-soul background and Rih’s affinity for hip-hop. This unexpected collab, joining pop’s reigning royalty and alternative’s rising star, has a feel good nature that sets the pace for what the rest of the album will sound like.
“James Joint”: Depending on the kind of Rihanna you enjoy or expect, this may be one of the more unfavorable tracks for some. It’s a spacy, dreamy single mixing a little marijuana with the struggle for true love. It’s a simple interlude that doesn’t bring or take anything away, but it does add to the overall cohesion of the album.
“Kiss It Better”: The glaring electric guitar intro immediately screams a modern, rock love song, and it’s not a bad look at all. The guitar and the back-up vocals on the chorus are fitting for the content, talking about mending broken fences and getting back together. Although this seems to be foreign territory compared to her previous love ballads like “Unfaithful” or “California King Bed,” this makes it seem like she’s always been singing this way. It may be the rock-inspired vibe or the desperation in her voice that makes the song feel so heavy and ultimately enjoyable. Either way it works, because it’s the climactic love song you want to blast from an old boombox.
“Work”: When you first see Drake’s name as a feature on this track, you can’t help give the air above a little high five. It’s been nearly six years since they teamed up for “What’s My Name,” so that alone warrants a listen. It was the first single to drop from the album and it took exactly five listens to really stand back and say, okay, this is good. She stumbles and fumbles through the chorus, but after you make out the fact that she’s repeating “work,” it makes you want to bust into a fast wine. The weird thing is she doesn’t actually say much on the track. The real words are left to Drake, which in some ways was a flop on his end. Going from lines like “The square root sixty-nine is ate something, right?” to “If you had a twin, I would still choose you” is a big leap from clever to corny. But this isn’t about Drake. So in terms of being the only track on the album that may get you up in a club, it’s good to have it in the mix.
“Desperado”: The opening eight seconds are pleasantly reminiscent of Banks’ “Waiting Game.” Again, she shows her versatility, matching a choppy, rustic voice with indie-rock. Not sure why it followed “Work,” considering the tempo is much slower and the lyrics desperately plead for companionship. But its addition to the track list is greatly appreciated as it gets us back in the zone. For lack of many comparisons, this one paints the picture of the western American story, similar to the missing “FourFiveSeconds.”“Woo:” If you were wondering where Travis Scott’s influence was on the album, you’ve found it. This hard, militant intro and echo-y sound reeks of Trav. Nonetheless, the track is the kind of the gutter anthem most expected from Rihanna to begin with. She’s not actually saying much, but something feels right. Through its static sound, she compares herself to his next. “I bet she could never make you cry, cause the scars on your heart are still mine… Too bad she just eating off your dreams. Let me know when you’re ready to plea. Maybe you just need to send for me.” Clearly, she’s acknowledging the fans that may be getting weary of the slow songs and alternative sounds. Here’s the single you can blast at kickbacks and collectively nod your head to.
“Needed Me”: “Don’t get it twisted,” Rihanna is still a bad ass, and on this track she shows how “savage” she can be. The electronic sound and heavy bass triggers every woman’s ability to be sexy and a savage at the same damn time. It’s for the #Navy members who need a beat to gets them up and moving as well as for the others that would rather not move at all, choosing instead to sit back with hands lifted and sing to the chorus or ad-libs.
“Yeah, I Said It:” This song is to ANTI what “Skin” was to Loud. It’s the kind of raw, hot, and whimsy sound that you replay, even though it’s not necessarily the most appropriate song to listen to on your way to work. The two-minute song gives a little more than “Birthday Cake” did (before the remix) but even so, as it echoes out you’re left wanting just a little bit more.
“Same Ol’ Mistakes:” She may be talking about old mistakes, but this is definitely a brand new sound. The soft, cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” definitely brings on the psychedelic, pop-rock feels. The song reminds you of the fluid motions of a lava lamp, casually changing from laid back to intense vocals.
“Never Ending”: There goes that guitar again. Unlike “Kiss it Better,” the sounds lean more towards country. Its organic melody and sweet back up vocals illustrate this idea of Rihanna performing on a beach with little to no instrumental support. Just like her lyrics, “Ghost in the mirror, I knew your face once, but now it’s unclear,” it’s a little unclear of whether this is a sad, love song or just a really beautiful chord progression, but whatever it’s going for, you feel it hard.
“Love On The Brain”: It took a second or two to warm up to the whiny vocals or all-tenor backup vocals, but as the band unravels into what sounds like a full blown orchestra, the song starts to come around. The sultry, love song depicts a destructive, yet addictive relationship, that has Rihanna baring her soul. While some production and vocal elements do sounds similar to Beyonce’s “Superpower,” it differs in the powerful and soulful performance that showcases her own range.
“Higher”: It’s an unpopular opinion, but the scream-singing isn’t too favorable. Still, there aren’t many complaints on this number. Her drunken plead for late-night companionship unleashes a powerful ballad. This song should have been the last song on the album, being that she gave almost everything she had left in the booth. “You light my fire. Let’s stay up late and smoke up a J. I want to go back to the old way.”
“Close To You:” Concluding the album is a somber ballad that drifts off to the soft instrumentals of the piano. It can similarly be compared to “Stay.” “If you let me, I’ll be there by now / close to you,” she sings. It seems like an odd song to end the album, but similar to the song’s fading out, it leaves you with a calming after taste of everything you just heard.