If you were to tell me that a new Rihanna album had recently come out in 2013, I’d most likely reply with a passive, “So what?” From 2005 to 2012, she released a staggering seven albums in the time a regular artist would’ve released three to four albums. This lightning-quick album cycle began to have an effect on the quality of the music by the 2010s. This downfall ended with 2010’s Talk That Talk, which saw Rihanna fusing some trendy dubstep and EDM into her sound. This plea for relevancy resulted in her least critically successful record since her debut. I don’t know if it was this mixed reception or the fact that the woman had been overworked for half a decade that caused her to go on somewhat of a hiatus, but the Rihanna albums just stopped coming. Now, four years after Unapologetic, Rihanna is back with her best album yet.
Just from the opener, it’s apparent that Anti isn’t going to be an everyday Rihanna album. With a beat that sounds like Tyler, The Creator could’ve made and a jazzy melody on the hook, “Consideration” is incredibly left field compared to her previous work. This promise is continued as Rihanna and her producers explore the various sounds of modern contemporary and alternative R&B. Tracks like “Kiss It Better” and “Desperado” are prime examples of Rihanna putting a tasteful spin on her regular sound, enough where they may even be a bit too eccentric for the Hot 100. She also plays with other artists sounds, such as on “Needed Me,” which takes a couple pages out The Weeknd’s playbook melody and production style. While these tracks are decent, the main reason anyone should check this record lies within the last four songs of the record. Each of these tracks show off a much more subtle, emotional side of Rihanna we’ve rarely, if ever, seen from her. “Love On the Brain” and “Higher” are an incredible one-two punch that goes in the soulful direction that “FourFiveSeconds,” which isn’t on this record, hinted. The only difference is that these two songs are miles better than that song. Each of these tracks feature Rihanna vocals sounding more raw, emotional, and moving than anything else she’s ever released, accompanied by some beautiful retro instrumentals that harken back to the earlier days of soul. The other two ballads that sandwich these two songs are nothing to scoff at either.
While it had been nearly four years since her last record, Anti still could’ve used some extra work. Its biggest issue is that it just seems unfinished in numerous places. “Yeah, I Said It” and the tragically short “James Joint,” just aren’t fleshed out enough to form album highlights, even though the blueprints for great tracks are within them.
Even “Higher,” one of the best tracks on the album, could’ve been so much more than just a two-minute showcase of Rihanna’s vocal prowess. There also are tracks that just flat-out bore or annoy. “Work” fails to live up to the role of the album’s smash single thanks to sloppy hook consisting of just the word “work” and a . But the biggest flop of them all has to be “Woo.” Two infinitely altered guitar chords, tuneless “woos” by Travis Scott, and an overall stale instrumental don’t add up to a quality song. It’s surprising that a release of this variety, a superstar trying to go experimental, succeeds more with its artsier cuts than the more contemporary songs. It’s a sign that Rihanna could possibly continue in this direction with great prosperity, as long as more time is dedicated to it so one-fourth of the songs don’t feel completely unfinished. Anti is essentially a showcase for Rihanna 1.5 – something new and better, but not quite the final build.